Congressional 'Power Trips'

If for some reason you haven’t yet been outraged by anything today, look no further than this site.

Who wouldn’t love to jet to London, stay in a fancy suite, and watch the Wimbledon finals — all for free? That’s the kind of perk enjoyed by many members of the U.S. Congress. Sure, laws prohibit them from accepting gifts worth more than $50. But somehow expensive travel and entertainment aren’t considered “gifts,” so the tobacco and drug industries, trade groups, and everyone else who wants special favors ply Congress with free trips. A public broadcasting team, along with journalism graduate students, researched all the privately sponsored trips taken by members of the House and Senate since 2000. They discovered that lobbyists and other private groups spent over $14 million to fly our congresspersons around the world. Look up your own reps to see who’s paying their airfare. Check out the bipartisan list of top travelers. Don’t you wish your job got you golf trips and spa treatments?

Power Trips, a website by Steve Henn was put up in September 2004. The data is interesting.

I immediately looked up the members of congress from my state, Washington. My eyes were quickly drawn to Democrat Representative Jim McDermott, or ‘Baghdad Jim’ as we like to call him. Jim has taken 36 trips over the years as a member of congress, costing $128,726. Average cost per trip? $3,576.

Who’s the ‘King of Travel’? Democratic Sen. John Breaux from Louisiana. The total cost of trips he’s taken is $158,312, averaging $2,683 per trip.

By the way – Republicans are just as guilty.

On Thursday, July 6, 2000, Tom Bliley, a Republican Congressman from Richmond, Virginia, boarded the Concorde with his wife. The supersonic jet touched down in London less than four hours later. The Blileys’ tickets cost nearly $24,000.

The couple spent four nights at the Savoy, a legendary 19th century luxury hotel with breathtaking views of the River Thames.

The Blileys’ suite cost more than $1,000 a night.

That weekend, they attended the Wimbledon finals. Their tickets cost nearly $3,000.

The total bill for Bliley’s four-day trip to England: over $31,000. But Congressman Bliley didn’t pay a dime.

Brown and Williamson Tobacco, the maker of Lucky Strikes, picked up the whole tab.

According to Marketplace, American RadioWorks, It wasn’t suppose to be this way.

Under rules enacted in 1995, members of Congress are banned from accepting any gift worth more than $50. But lawmakers can accept gifts of travel worth tens of thousands of dollars. And when congresspeople hit the road, many ethics restrictions don’t apply.

House and Senate rules allow members to accept work-related travel from private companies, universities and other outside groups as long as legislators limit what they take to what the rules call “reasonable and necessary expenses.”

Entertainment falls outside that line.

These are not games from the industry standpoint. This is very serious business. They only do it because they think they are going to get a payback for it.

Do a quick check of the Top 100 Trip Takers. The list is staggering.

When will activity like this end? Will it ever end? Is this just ‘politics as usual’ or can reform take place?

Unfortunately, I already know the answer to these questions.

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