Commissioner Ellis charged campaign for over 75 visits to local establishments

The 'meeting' haunts include Smoothie King and Phoenicia Foods

HOUSTON – Airline seat upgrades, business class travel, luxurious stays at the Ritz Carlton: Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis enjoys them all.

Ellis tapped into his campaign funds to pick up the tab, as he stated in a recent interview with Channel 2 Investigates.

"If I'm flying on my personal business, I'm going to fly business class, if it's international,” Ellis said.

When reminded that he uses the dollars that other people gave him to do so, Ellis said, “Yeah."

Ellis hasn't even started his 2020 reelection campaign. When asked if he has officially launched his campaign, Ellis quickly admitted, "No I have not."

But that's not stopping him from spending.

Ellis is busy building up his war-chest by purchasing a variety of stocks including Google, Apple, AT&T and Boeing.

More than $1.5 million in investment purchases have been made using campaign donations, according to his campaign finance records.

"If the market tumbles, you are up the creek. That is the risk you take," Ellis said.

However, if a company that he has stock in is going before the county commissioner, how is that not a conflict of interest?

Ellis says, "I have no concerns over any conflict of interests."

Rice political science professor Mark Jones said one may arise.

"There is a potential of conflict of interest," Jones said.

Managing a rich war chest appears to work up quite the appetite. Ellis regularly uses campaign funds instead of his own bank account for meals. We counted more than 75 occasions between last July and December when Ellis used campaign donations for food and drinks. The vast majority of the spending was listed as "meetings," including 10 purchases at Smoothie King, 27 at Phoenicia Foods and one meal at Morton's Steakhouse for nearly $800.

Bay Scoggin, of the government watchdog Texas Public Interest Research Group, said the spending doesn’t "pass the smell test,” after reviewing campaign finance records.

Scoggin raised several concerns, but his primary concern?

"I think this is a chapter in the larger story of lax enforcement rules that really is problematic for the public's interest," he said.

Ellis said in his mind the spending is justified and the expenses are legal. It's how he goes about his political business.

"When it's time to go, I'm going to say it was one hell of a ride and I hope I made a difference along the way," Ellis said.

Ellis already made it known he has no problem spending his campaign dollars at restaurants.

In fact, following an interview with KPRC2, Ellis took to Twitter and tweeted an image from a local “upscale vegan option restaurant” with the line, "Ellis campaign treating."

Ellis is up for re-election in November 2020.