Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) was on CNN this morning, promoting the latest outrage: $16 muffins at Department of Justice conferences. CNN was only too happy to provide a forum for his nonsense.
Kevin Drum at Mother Jones looked into this "scandal" and was unsurprisingly underwhelmed.
So did DOJ really pay $16 for muffins? Of course not. In fact, it's obvious that someone quite carefully calculated the amount they were allowed to spend and then gave the hotel a budget. The hotel agreed, but for some reason decided to divide up the charges into just a few categories instead of writing a detailed invoice for every single piece of food they provided.
This is unremarkable. In fact, I'm here to tell you that this happens All. The. Time. I've been involved in what feels like a thousand conferences of this kind, and I'd be shocked if it happened any other way.
None of this is to say that DOJ didn't overspend on its conferences. In fact, it sounds like they did — though in some cases this was just an artifact of applying overhead costs to the food instead of accounting for it separately. But the $16 muffin? That's a myth. It'll never die now that it's been delivered to posterity thanks to some enthusiast in the OIG who broke out a calculator and mistakenly assumed they could calculate actual costs this way, but it's still a myth.
And reading through the report (pgs 32-33) it takes about 5 seconds to realize where the money went. ($39,500 ÷ 5 days) ÷ 534 attendees, and not surmise that a whole more than 300 muffins were eaten that entire week.
Chuck Grassley may be the biggest horse's patoot in a senate replete with them. Or it could just be that he's a wily old codger who just knows how to play the game with the media with this bit of foolishness, as even a cursory examination of the facts would have shown. Whatever the case, CNN and the rest get pwned yet again.
(note: The entire segment lasted well over 6 minutes but I didn't feel I could in good conscience subject you to that, Dear Readers, so I've cut in down to 3. Feel free to listen to the Frank Zappa song below if you need to get the bad taste out after the CNN video above.)
UPDATE: WASHINGTON -- The government did not pay $16 apiece for breakfast muffins at a Justice Department conference, no matter what the department's inspector general thinks.
So says Hilton Worldwide, which hosted the 2009 legal training conference in Washington. Even the IG's own report issued this week acknowledges that for the price paid, they also got some free fruit and drinks.
Hilton Worldwide, which manages and franchises hotels including the Capital Hilton where the conference took place, says the price included not only breakfast baked goods but also fresh fruit, coffee, tea, soft drinks, tax and tips. It says the report misinterpreted its invoices, which often use shorthand and don't reflect the full menu and service provided.