Pennsylvania taxpayers were billed almost $3,000 for a state Senate hearing at a Gettysburg hotel where lawyers for President Donald Trump aired unfounded allegations of widespread fraud in the Nov. 3 election, records show.
The Nov. 25 hearing of the Senate Policy Committee -- requested by Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams County, one of Trump’s most loyal followers in the Pennsylvania General Assembly – provided a platform for attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis to present witnesses who alleged election irregularities they asserted stole Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes from the president.
The event cost $2,568 for a room rental and related charges at the Wyndham, that included a $1,188 buffet of buffalo chicken, quiche made with goat cheese and red pepper, vegetable crudité and domestic and imported cheeses, according to receipts provided by the Senate in response to a Right to Know Law request by citizen activist Eric Epstein. The cost included $370 for senators’ and staff mileage.
“The problem is this was a political circus paid for with taxpayers’ dollars during a pandemic,” said Epstein, co-founder of Rock the Capital, a government reform group that provided the Senate’s response to The Caucus. He called it “an obscene waste of taxpayers’ dollars.”
The Caucus has also requested from the Senate records documenting per diem payments and other expenses related to the hearing for which senators might have sought reimbursement.
Sens. Dave Argall, R-Berks/Schulkill, the committee's chairman; Mastriano; and Judy Ward, R-Blair did not respond to calls and emails from The Caucus.
At the outset of the hearing, Argall stated the purpose: “We are agents of public opinion elected by the people for a fixed term as lawmakers, to provide oversight on behalf of the public, over our government agencies…We’re here today because we have all been receiving massive numbers of phone calls and emails and personal comments when we’re out walking our dogs in our neighborhoods, about the conduct of this election. My office has received a record number of contacts, over 25,000 phone calls and emails as of yesterday (Nov. 24, 2020.)
“I think today we’re going to see a turning of the tide,” Mastriano said at the hearing, “because we have not really heard the truth of the arguments made on the other side and what happened and what we’re dealing with, a government and leadership in Harrisburg that wants to close their ears to what’s happened during this election, and sadly, many in the media that are complicit and want to write off what happened.”
Trump himself spoke during the hearing, speaking via Ellis’ mobile phone, which she held up to her microphone. He told the attendees that the “election was rigged, and we can’t let that happen.
“This election has to be turned around, because we won Pennsylvania by a lot, and we won all of these swing states by a lot. Anybody watching television the night of the election was saying, ‘Wow.’ I was called by the biggest political people, ‘Congratulations, Sir, on a big win.’ All of a sudden, ballots were dumped all over the place, and a lot of horrible things happened.”
The sweeping conspiracy theories presented by Trump’s lawyers in Gettysburg differed from their message days earlier in court -- where giving false statements could land them in legal trouble. A week earlier, for instance, Giuliani was pressed by U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann on whether he was claiming election fraud had taken place. "This is not a fraud case," Giuliani told the judge. Trump's legal team has lost 62 election-related lawsuits, according to a running tally by Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias.
The Nov. 25 Senate hearing was attended by members of the public as well as a group of GOP state representatives, who sat alongside their Senate counterparts.