Midstate lawmaker criticized by opponent for taking ‘free lunch money’

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – It’s lunchtime in the Capitol cafeteria with just two days left in the legislative session.

It is busy and a table full of food is not considered unusual.

But Christine Tolbert is doing her best to draw a crowd to her table o’plenty.

“It’s to demonstrate the extravagance of that kind of money,” she says to one passerby.

Tolbert hopes the assembled slices of pizza, numerous sandwiches, hot dog, drinks and chips is food for thought.

“My opponent collects the partial per diem, the lunch money,” she says to a woman who approached her table.

Tolbert is the Democratic challenger to 12-year incumbent State Representative Rob Kauffman (R-Franklin). Tolbert has a binder full of Kauffman’s per diems and points out the $57 partial per diems Kauffman collects regularly for coming to Harrisburg. On the table, she assembled $57 worth of food to show what a $57 lunch looks like.

“As a retired teacher, I packed my lunch every day that I went to school,” Tolbert said. “I will continue to pack my lunch if I make it to the state legislature.”

In a district that’s 2-to-1 Republican, that is not likely.

“This is a total publicity stunt,” Kauffman said of Tolbert’s table full of food.

He said Tolbert opened Hillary Clinton’s campaign office in Chambersburg and her liberal views are out of touch with the district. Kauffman points out that the per diems are within the rules, completely legal, and are reimbursements for more than lunch.

“Incidental expenses for my senior fair, for legislative events, all the things that come with doing the job,” Kauffman said. “I’m not gonna let one liberal detractor keep me from serving my constituents to the best of my ability and that’s what I’m doing.”

Per diems are tax-free and no receipts required to cash in.

“There are working families in the 89th district in Franklin County who live in Shippensburg and in Chambersburg who do drive to Harrisburg for work,” Tolbert said. “Nobody is paying them mileage, no one is paying them lunch money.”

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