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Lawmakers took $50 million in free trips
Yahoo News/Reuters
By Thomas Ferraro
June 5, 2006

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Members of the U.S. Congress and their aides took free trips worth nearly $50 million paid for by corporations, trade associations and other private groups between January 2000 and June 2005, according to a study released on Monday.

Some of the 23,000 trips featured $500-a-night hotel rooms, $25,000 corporate jet rides and visits to popular spots such as Paris, Hawaii and Colorado ski resorts, said the study, by the Center for Public Integrity, American Public Media and Northwestern University's Medill News Service.

The study found that many of those who picked up the tabs were at the same time seeking to shape legislation on Capitol Hill or win federal contracts.

"In many instances, trip sponsors appeared to be buying access to elected officials or their advisors," the study said.

While most excursions seemed to be legitimate fact-finding missions, others appeared to have been little more than "pricey vacations ... wrapped around speeches or seminars" in which the lawmaker was often joined by family members, according to the study and researchers who conducted it.

The data emerged from a nine-month-long review of congressional travel disclosure forms and coincided with ongoing federal investigations of political corruption and efforts to clean up how Congress does business.

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud charges in January and admitted he showered golf trips, sports tickets and other gifts on lawmakers in return for actions that would help his clients.

In response, the Senate and House of Representatives have voted to toughen ethics guidelines and require greater disclosure. But critics have charged more needs to be done.

Lawmakers and their aides can take trips financed by outside groups to help them learn about issues or to deliver speeches, such as commencement addresses. Lobbyists may not pay for congressional trips but can help to arrange them.


The study was released at a news conference where its sponsors said they found more than 1,000 violations of congressional rules, many of them involving lawmakers who inadequately filed disclosure reports.

Other infractions included members taking more than the one permitted family member on a trip, accepting gifts worth more than the $49.99 limit and lobbyists picking up the travel tab.

"There's a remarked indifference to the rules shown by members of Congress," said Wendell Rawls of the Center for Public Integrity, adding "they are rarely, if ever, reprimanded."

"When confronted with a rules violation they simply ask for and receive a waiver from the House ethics committee or else they just submit an amended form," Rawls said.

Congressional trip sponsors, the study said, included Microsoft, Time Warner and The Walt Disney Co., along with the Association of American Railroads.

Tom White, an association spokesman, was quoted in the study as saying that such getaways "provide an opportunity for us to discuss our issues with members in an atmosphere where you are not time-constrained.

"If you try to talk to a member for any great length of time ... in Washington, they are simply too busy," White said.

Former House Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLay and his staffers accepted about a half million dollars in trips during the period under review -- more than any other congressional office, the study said.

DeLay resigned as House Republican leader last year after he was indicted on charges of violating campaign finance laws in his home state of Texas.

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