Skip to comments.CA: Southland's high-flying pols (Maxine,Nostrildummass lead the way)
Posted on 04/27/2005 9:07:58 AM PDT by NormsRevenge
Private groups flew Southern California congressional representatives across the globe on trips worth nearly $700,000 over the past five years, according to a report issued Tuesday.
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, was the area's most frequent flier, according to the data collected by PoliticalMoneyLine, an online service that monitors campaign finance disclosure forms.
Waters accepted 52 trips -- including jaunts to Cuba, Puerto Rico and Jamaica's Montego Bay -- at an estimated total of $132,219.
At the bottom of the list was Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, who took one $340 trip to San Diego at the expense of the National Association of Federal Credit Unions.
Big or small, however, almost all privately funded trips share the same problem, according to watchdog groups: The public doesn't know who is really footing the bill.
"You really can't tell from the name who they are or where their sources of funding comes from," PoliticalMoneyLine co-founder Kent Cooper said of the trade organizations and nonprofit groups listed as sponsors.
"Even when everything is filled out, you're still left with questions," Cooper said.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas is facing scrutiny for taking trips allegedly paid for by lobbyists and foreign governments. Under House rules, organizations, corporations and trade groups can pay for a lawmaker's travel, but lobbyists and foreign agents cannot.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, who accepted $113,973 worth of trips, called the attacks on DeLay "unreal hypocrisy."
He said members of Congress, himself included, routinely take trips they know are backed by funding from foreign governments or interests "but they did it through a foundation because that's the legal way and that happens every single day."
Rep. Howard Berman, D-Van Nuys, said he prefers to take trips sponsored by the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan think tank that funded nine of his 30 trips over the past five years.
His 30 trips had a total estimated value of $98,116. Destinations included Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, Moscow and Spain. The Consumer Electronic Association, Intel Corp. and Sony Corp. also paid for a handful of domestic trips in which Berman participated in panel discussions on intellectual property issues.
He called accepting academic-oriented trips, like Aspen Institute events, "the best of both possible worlds. There's no taxpayer money and no special interests."
Waters released a statement saying she refuses most of the hundreds of travel requests her office receives annually and noted that many of the trips she does take involve overnight or two-day stays.
"I selectively respond to a few of these requests because I am a national figure with a legislative and television presence that triggers requests to have me speak about many of the issues I am involved with as a member of Congress," she said.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, who accepted 21 trips valued at about $106,000, said he believes it's important for lawmakers to meet and talk to leaders in other nations.
"It's also valuable for people in other countries to know people in the U.S. government care about their countries," he said.
Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Thousand Oaks, whose three trips over the past five years amounted to about $11,000, said he prefers to stay home.
"I fly to my district every week. That's where the people that I represent are."
Gary Ruskin, director of the Congressional Accountability Project, said nearly all privately funded trips pose ethical problems.
"Special interests play the influence-peddling game on a regular basis," he said.
..data collected by PoliticalMoneyLine, an online service that monitors campaign finance disclosure forms.