April 18, 2010 in City

Officials eat free, still cash in

Newspaper finds expense claims common
Associated Press
 

PORTLAND – A newspaper investigation has found that Oregon Treasury officials are reimbursed for free meals provided by investment firms during their travels to manage the $67 billion state investment program.

The Oregonian reported that free meals are standard fare and typically held at famous restaurants for Treasury officials who oversee the way investment companies manage Oregon’s pension, accident insurance and common school funds.

But the newspaper said it found plenty of examples of double dipping on meals. It said one Treasury investment officer claimed $756 for meals on a five-day trip despite a free dinner at a sumptuous five-star hotel in Vienna, along with other free meals at expensive restaurants.

Last September, investment officer Sam Green attended the annual meeting of Apax Partners in Vienna, Austria. The night before the meeting, Apax bought dinner for a group of investors at the sumptuous, five-star Hotel Imperial.

The next day, Apax provided breakfast and lunch between business presentations at Vienna’s Albertina Museum.

In the evening, the investment firm laid on cocktails and dinner at one of the city’s masterpieces of baroque architecture.

All those meals were free. Yet the newspaper said that Green’s expense form shows he claimed a meal allowance for every meal on the five-day trip, including those on his business-class flights to and from the meeting. The cost to taxpayers: $756.

At the request of Treasury officials, the Oregonian submitted detailed factual statements regarding investment officers’ trips. The agency didn’t contest the accuracy of any of the statements, instead saying it had decided not to provide responses.

Seeking state reimbursement for free meals is “acceptable practice within the agency,” said Ron Schmitz, chief investment officer for Treasury’s investment division.

Meal allowances are often inadequate for business travel, Schmitz said. He cited New York City, where the daily allowance was $64 last year, and said it only suffices “if you eat at the roach coach or McDonald’s every day.”

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