Late Breaking News
|Date: July 16, 1998 7:00 am
Contact: Center for Responsive Politics
|Private Special Interests Pay $6.4 Million For Congressional Travel|
|WASHINGTON - July 16 - Members of the 105th Congress and their
staffs accepted $6.4 million in free travel from private organizations during 1997 -
including $2.6 million for trips by lawmakers themselves, the non-partisan Center for
Responsive Politics reports exclusively today in the new edition of the bimonthly
newsletter, Capital Eye.
The report puts a price tag for the first time ever on privately financed congressional travel. It also provides the first ranking of trip sponsors and leading congressional travelers.
The study is based on a database the Center compiled from the travel reports that members of Congress file with the Secretary of the Senate and Clerk of the House. The database is being posted today in a searchable format at the Center's Web site at www.crp.org, giving the public full, free access to filings previously available only in paper form on Capitol Hill.
Travel sponsors included think tanks, business groups, and labor unions, and the types of trips ranged from non-partisan retreats to obvious efforts by special-interest groups to advance their legislative agenda.
Of the $6.4 million in privately financed travel in 1997, GOP lawmakers and staff accepted $4.1million in free travel and Democrats took $2.3 million. Top travel destinations for lawmakers included Lanai, Hawaii; Israel; Dresden, Germany; Prague; Paris; Palm Beach, Fla.; San Diego; Hershey, Pa.; and Scottsdale, Ariz.
Top trip sponsors in 1997 included the non-partisan Aspen Institute; the Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce, a Taiwanese business group; the American Israel Public Affairs Committee; the Nuclear Energy Institute; the Tax Foundation; the Center for Strategic and International Studies; the Congressional Economic Leadership Institute; the Ripon Educational Fund; the National Center for Public Policy Research; and the Tobacco Institute.
The number of trips the major sponsors financed varied widely. The top-ranked Aspen Institute, for example, spent $437,134 on 229 trips, including travel by 133 House members to a conference on civility in Hershey, Pa. But the entire $64,064 spent on travel by the ninth-ranked National Center for Public Policy Analysis paid for House Majority Whip Tom Delay (R-Texas) and four staffers to visit Russia.
Leading House recipients of privately financed travel were Reps. Bill Archer (R-Texas), Bob Smith (R-Ore.), Tom Delay (R-Texas), Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), and Bud Shuster (R-Pa.). Top recipients of travel in the Senate were Sens. Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska), William B. Roth Jr. (R-Del.), James M. Jeffords (R-Vt.), Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.), and Conrad Burns (R-Mont.). Gingrich took the single most expensive trip, a $33,141 journey to London bankrolled by ARCO.
The July edition of Capital Eye also includes articles about:
* Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of "in-kind" gifts - including air travel, computer software, telecommunications services, catering, and lodging -- that the national political party committees have been accepting in 1997-98.
* A surge in campaign contributions this spring by managed health care interests, which coincided with House deliberations on new federal regulations covering health maintenance organizations and insurers.
* An obscure provision in proposed bankruptcy reform legislation that could double the number of customers turning to non-profit credit counselors. The twist: The counseling industry never sought and doesn't want the provision, which ends up benefiting the big credit card companies and other creditors pressing the bankruptcy bill.
* Pioneers in the use of the Internet as a tool for campaign advertising and fund-raising.
The Center earlier this year posted House travel data covering the first half of 1997, but the new database unveiled Thursday at www.crp.org covers the entire 1997 calendar year and also includes travel by senators and their staffs. It's the first time privately financed congressional travel for an entire year has been available to the public.
The database is searchable by sponsoring organization, lawmaker, state delegation, and destination. Lists of the most popular destinations and most expensive trips are available. And the Center has standardized the names of sponsoring organizations, so users can see every trip sponsored by a particular group.
Although Congress banned most gifts to members in 1995, privately financed travel is still allowed as long as a member claims a tie to official business. So, it's now illegal for a lobbyist to buy a House member lunch, but perfectly legal for a trade organization to provide an all-expense paid trip to Europe.
Many lawmakers view privately financed trips as an attractive alternative to publicly financed
travel, which opens them to criticism for wasting tax dollars on "junkets." But private travel raises different ethical questions when groups with vested interests in legislation are paying for the trips.
Members of Congress are required to file reports within 30 days of authorizing privately financed travel, but the disclosure is hollow because the paper filings are available only to those who can travel to Capitol Hill. The Center has compiled the travel database and posted it on the Web in an effort to make disclosure a reality. The Center's Web site also includes searchable databases of federal campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures and detailed campaign finance profiles for every congressional candidate nationwide.
Capital Eye is available on the World Wide Web at www.crp.org. Mail subscriptions are available by writing to the Center at 1320 19th St. NW, #620, Washington, DC 20036 or sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Center for Responsive Politics is a non-partisan, non-profit research organization that tracks money in federal politics. News stories based on this release should credit the Center for Responsive Politics and Capital Eye.
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