In 2010, many freshmen Republicans were swept into Congress on the promise of doing things differently.
But fast-forward to 2012, and the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Fla. — an exclusive seaside resort and home to 54 holes of championship golf and a private marina full of luxury yachts.
That’s where we caught up with a select group of Republican freshmen, engaged in business as usual. But they didn’t come alone. They invited big campaign donors and lobbyists to join them - for a price. And we secretly sent our cameras along for a unique inside look at their first joint fundraiser, where special interests got the kind of access ordinary Americans can only dream of: on the golf course; over drinks at the resort bar; at a private beach lagoon.
“Book your Key Largo getaway now,” reads the invitation, obtained by CBS News. The hosts are veteran congressmen Spencer Bachus, of Alabama, Pete Sessions, of Texas, “and 12 of your favorite Republican freshmen!”
The 12: Sandy Adams (Fla.), Quico Canseco (Texas), Rick Crawford (Ark.), Bob Dold (Ill.), Sean Duffy (Wis.), Stephen Fincher (Tenn.), Mike Fitzpatrick (Penn.), Daniel Webster (Fla.), Mike Grimm (N.Y.), Nan Hayworth (N.Y.), Jim Renacci (Ohio) and Cory Gardner (Col).
Congressmen Canseco and Gardner were seen on camera heading in to host happy hour. To get in, donors had to pay at least $10,000.
During his campaign, Gardner promised average voters would inspire his actions. One ad said, “I will always put Colorado families before the Washington special interests.”
But in Key Largo, Gardner appeared to offer special interests lots of face time. He was seen on camera talking to an attendee who said he works for a bank. In another shot, he’s seen going charter fishing as part of the fundraising package — they head out on a group of boats including one named “Good Life.”
It appeared Rep. Webster was going fishin’, too.
Back in 2010 at a Tea Party rally, Webster criticized Washington’s ways, saying, “America’s not broken, Washington is!”
Then, there’s Congressman Renacci manning a golf cart — donors got time on the links as part of the deal.
Some congressmen brought their spouses and special interests got to share lively dinner conversation at a restaurant with gourmet delights such as braised baby octopus and crispy duck confit.
Another shot shows Gardner and Canseco again.
And Rep. Bachus, who recently became the subject of an ethics investigation into whether he used his position for personal gain, which he denies.
Later, we found Canseco mingling over drinks at the resort’s burgee bar.
Then, Congressman Sessions joins the conversation. An individual can legally give up to $46,200 to the joint fundraiser; the money’s split among the freshmen.
It’s perfectly legal for members of Congress to have a getaway at a Florida resort. The question is: Why do lobbyists pay thousands of dollars to be here with them? What are the lobbyists getting in return?
None of the members of Congress agreed to an interview. They referred us to Paul Lindsay at the National Republican Congressional Committee, which organized the getaway.
Asked what the donors are getting out of the weekend, Lindsay replied, “They’re getting a Republican House next year.”