The Power Trips series:
In The Lobbyists' Loophole, William Kistner looks at how lobbyists use the veil of nonprofit organizations to fund lavish trips for lawmakers.
Chilled Travel looks at congressional travel a year after the initial Power Trips report. Fewer lavish trips? Only for some.
Tax law prohibits members of Congress from taking international trips paid for by private foundations. That didn't stop Republican Richard Pombo.
Members of Congress aren't the only ones living it up. From 2000 through mid-2005, congressional staffers took almost $30 million in free trips, and many of them violated ethics rules. See the staffer data here.
Special interests have spent a lot of money building close relationships on the road in recent years. Between January 2000 and August 2006 members of Congress and their staff went on almost 26,000 trips worth nearly $55 million, all paid for by special interests. We know this thanks to a two-year investigation by Steve Henn of Marketplace and William Kistner of American RadioWorks, in collaboration with the Medill School of Journalism and the Center for Public Integrity. Members of Congress and their staff have to report their privately-funded travel on special disclosure forms. But Henn and Kistner found many forms were incomplete. The House even kept its disclosure documents in three-ring binders in a windowless basement storage room. Henn and Kistner created a searchable database to uncover just how much congressional travel was going on, and to document widespread abuse.
To be sure, spending on congressional travel by special interest persuaders dropped precipitously early last year. One factor was greater public scrutiny, thanks to the American RadioWorks/Marketplace investigation and other media reports. Another reason is Jack Abramoff, the Republican super-lobbyist, pleaded guilty in January to a number of political corruption charges. Few members of Congress wanted to be associated with the kind of trips he put together, such as an expensive golf junket to Scotland. For instance, in March 2006, members of Congress and their staff accepted a mere $60,000 in trips compared to more than $2 million in March of 2005. Still, by the spring of last year, the number of trips and the associated dollar figures for privately-funded congressional travel started creeping higher.
The last Congress failed to overhaul its travel rules. The new Congress has pledged to reform travel as part of a campaign to clean up corruption and influence-peddling on Capitol Hill. But there are still divisions among members of Congress with some representatives and senators advocating an outright ban on all privately-sponsored travel while others prefer concentrating on limiting overseas junkets.
You can check out our award-winning investigative series into congressional travel by clicking here. You can also delve into our database to see if your state's Congressional members and staff have taken any trips, and who paid the bill.
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