2016 presidential campaigns owe Secret Service $3.9 million, GAO says

WASHINGTON — Four 2016 presidential campaign committees owe a combined $3.9 million to the Secret Service after the agency overpaid the campaigns in reimbursements for travel costs for agents who accompanied candidates and their families.

The Government Accountability Office issued a report Thursday analyzing the debts owed by the campaign committees of President Donald Trump, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

GAO investigators found the Secret Service committed numerous errors documenting lodging bills and calculating travel reimbursement amounts. When the agency discovered it had been misinterpreting internal policies for reimbursing campaigns, it did not ensure that agents knew to change how they paid back campaigns for travel costs.

“The Secret Service is incredibly proud of how we operated during the 2016 campaign, and like any high performance operation we are committed to continual improvement,” the agency said in a statement Thursday. “After the issues highlighted in the report were brought to our attention, the Secret Service took immediate action to address them.”

The agency has not yet recovered money from the campaigns for the overpayments.

Federal agencies are usually required to collect debts owed to the U.S. government that have been determined by an appropriate official, according to the GAO report. Those debts include overpayments.

So the Secret Service must now collect the $3.9 million in overpayments.

The problem? Some candidates, especially Clinton and Carson, have mostly emptied their campaign committee coffers.

—CQ Roll Call

Proposals would bar Congress from buying first-class tickets

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said they’re outraged by top officials of the Trump administration using taxpayer funds to buy first-class airline tickets and seats on private planes.

Those members of Congress can do the same, though — and don’t seem in any hurry to change that. Three proposed amendments to Congress’ annual budget bill that would bar public funds from being used to purchase first-class airline tickets appear doomed.

Tom Price resigned as Health and Human Services secretary last year following eruptions after it was revealed he spent more than $1 million on travel, including chartered planes. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt faced a scandal earlier this year for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on first-class tickets and chartered planes. Pruitt has said the pricey travel was necessitated by hostility he faced from members of the public. He remains in office, though his troubles go beyond travel scandals.

Under an amendment sponsored by Reps. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., and Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., only coach tickets could be purchased by members of Congress, except in special cases such as a medical condition. The two have been working on trying to get a similar bill or amendment through the Capitol since 2014. Despite bipartisan support, the bills have repeatedly stalled.

The idea is to apply something like the Federal Travel Regulation, which requires executive agency employees to get authorization for any travel accommodations beyond coach class, to federal lawmakers.

—McClatchy Washington Bureau

American Bible Society to employees: Abstain from sex outside marriage or resign

PHILADELPHIA — The American Bible Society, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that translates and distributes Bibles around the world, wants employees to agree to abstain from sex outside marriage — or resign.

In a policy recently made public, the organization also defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. That means LGBT employees could be disqualified from working at the nonprofit. So could sexually active straight employees who live with a partner but are not married.

Employees who don’t commit to the terms by Jan. 1, 2019, will be told to resign. The policy is a shift for the organization, which previously did not require staffers to abide by such an agreement.

Up to nine employees have already left, according to a current staffer who has worked at the nonprofit for more than a decade and would be affected because she lives with a partner outside of marriage.

“It’s pretty much like a firing squad going around,” said the employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she was concerned the nonprofit would reprimand her for speaking publicly. She said she is looking for other jobs: “You’re being forced to fire yourself.”

The policy was announced to employees in December, but it came into the news this week when the Religion News Service reported on it.

The Bible Society defended the policy, known as the “Affirmation of Biblical Community.”

“We realize everyone must live by his or her own conscience and understanding of what God calls his people to do,” Roy Peterson, the nonprofit’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “If staff members disagree with the Affirmation of Biblical Community, thus choosing to seek employment elsewhere, we will support their decision and continue to treat them with respect and care in their transition.”

Peterson added that the nonprofit enacted the policy “because we believe a staff made up of people with a deep and personal connection to the Bible will bring unity and clarity as we continue our third century of ministry.”

—The Philadelphia Inquirer

Study calculates hours lost with family on Thanksgiving over partisan politics

The 2016 presidential election was so toxic that Americans spent nearly 74 million fewer hours with family and friends on Thanksgiving Day, new research suggests.

More than 48 million hours were lost when Thanksgiving guests from precincts that voted for Republican Donald Trump cut short their visits to hosts in precincts that went for Democrat Hillary Clinton. Another 35 million hours were lost when visitors from Clinton precincts arrived late or departed early from dinner hosted in Trump precincts, the analysis found.

The more that visitors were exposed to campaign commercials in the months before the election, the less time they spent at cross-partisan Thanksgiving gatherings a few weeks after Election Day.

“Our results indicate that partisan polarization extends in quantitatively meaningful ways to close family settings and that political advertising and related campaign efforts can exacerbate these fissures,” economists M. Keith Chen and Ryne Rohla wrote in Friday’s edition of the journal Science.

The pair came up with a name for this dysfunction — the “Thanksgiving effect.”

Chen, a professor of economics at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, and Rohla, a graduate student specializing in political economy and the economics of culture and religion at Washington State University in Pullman, cited anecdotal evidence that many Americans called off Thanksgiving plans with “politically problematic relatives” in the wake of the unusually divisive election. It made them wonder whether they could demonstrate this empirically, and perhaps even quantify it.

They started with anonymized data from more than 10 million smartphones. The “pings” from the phones between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. in the weeks before Thanksgiving told the researchers where each phone user lived, and the pings between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day told them where they went for their holiday meal.

Chen and Rohla cross-referenced those locations with precinct-level voting data from state and county election officials around the country. The phone users were presumed to have voted the way their precincts as a whole voted.

Then the researchers narrowed their focus to the phone users who were at home in the morning and at night on Thanksgiving, but who went somewhere else for dinner. These people, they figured, were able to “control the duration of their visits,” unlike guests who flew in from out of town and wouldn’t have been able to leave no matter what went down over turkey and stuffing.

—Los Angeles Times