"I'm a travelin' man, I've made a lot of stops, all over the world..."
-- Ricky Nelson
It is no excuse to say "everybody does it" if what everybody is doing is unlawful. However, in the case of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who's been singled out by Democrats for criticism because of trips he's taken that were, in some cases, apparently paid for at least in part by lobbyists, the party that's pointing a finger at DeLay ought to look at all the fingers pointing back at Democrats.
A study by PoliticalMoneyLine (www.politicalmoneyline.com) has found that during the last five years, out of the $16 million in congressional travel paid for by private funds, more than half (almost $8.8 million) came from tax-exempt organizations which receive funds from others. One of the raps on DeLay is that some of his trips, including one to Russia in 1997, were reportedly underwritten by lobbyists, but through a non-profit organization. DeLay has said he had no knowledge of lobbyists funding such trips, which might have violated House ethics rules.
According to the study by PoliticalMoneyLine, many of the organizations paying for congressional travel are tax-exempt entities and are not required to disclose their donors to the public in the IRS Form 990 reports they must file.
The study found that during the five-year period surveyed, members of Congress took 5,410 trips (Democrats, 3,025 trips; Republicans, 2,375 trips; others, 10 trips.) Altogether, 605 members of both houses took trips, with Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, receiving the most gifts of travel (19 trips valued at $167,960). By contrast, DeLay was 28th on the list with 14 trips valued at $94,568.
Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., can claim the prize for most trips (60), but Ford's less expensive domestic travel totaled just $61,000. Organizations spending the most for congressional travel, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, were the Aspen Institute ($2,897,602) and the Ripon Society ($694,042), both ideologically liberal organizations.
After Sensenbrenner, the next four members receiving the most gifts of travel were Democrats: Rep. Gene Green of Texas, (former) Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana, Rep. Robert Wexler of Florida and Rep. Maurice Hinchey of New York. No Democrat has raised questions about any of these because their target is DeLay, probably the most effective majority leader since the days when Democrats used to rule. DeLay resists and often thwarts the Democrats' agenda. Since he continues to win re-election, Democrats are trying to take him down using their scandal machine.
There's plenty more in the PoliticalMoneyLine report that bears investigation if Democrats are serious about "exposing" ethically questionable travel. More than 127 travel reports filed by members listed no destinations. Twenty reports listed no trip sponsor. One hundred and six reports listed no cost figures, Fifty-one reports showed no purpose for the travel. Four reports failed to show any travel dates. No wonder some members, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have rushed to file amended reports. An aide acknowledged that Pelosi had not reported a 2004 trip to South Korea, but only after a Washington Post reporter inquired about it. The aide, said the Post, filed a full disclosure form "a few hours after the newspapers' inquiry" and sent a note to the ethics committee which said, "I did not know I was supposed to file these forms and I apologize for its lateness."
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that House Republicans have decided to rescind a rules change they pushed through in January that led to the shutdown of the ethics committee, possibly clearing the way for consideration of charges against DeLay and others. The House Ethics Committee has not been operating because Democrats would not allow it to meet following the rules change that required an ethics complaint be dismissed if the evenly-divided panel deadlocked. We'll now see if Democrats are as enthusiastic about maintaining an ethical standard when some of their own are questioned along with Tom DeLay.
Tribune Media Services