June 30, 2006 – With lawmakers and their aides jet-setting around the world, it is never certain if all that travel is for business or pleasure.
But one thing is clear, according to a tally by a cohort of government watchdogs: over the last five years, members of Congress and their staffs have spent at least 81,000 days â€“ a combined 222 years â€“ away from Washington.
The Center for Public Integrity, American Public Media and Northwestern University's Medill News Service have analyzed thousands of congressional travel-disclosure forms from January 2000 through June 2005 and found that elected officials and their direct employees have gone on nearly 23,000 privately sponsored trips, totaling $50 million.
Although the groups said that some of the trips were legitimate fact-finding missions, other voyages appear to be politically-motivated vacations hosted by interest groups. Over the five-year period, there were 200 trips to Paris, 150 to Hawaii and 140 to Italy.
Representative Gene Green (Dâ€“Texas) and his wife traveled to Las Vegas on the National Association of Broadcastersâ€™ dime and took five trips sponsored by the Association of American Railroads, at a combined cost of $24,072.
Senator Richard Lugar (Râ€“Indiana) and his wife attended seminars in Grand Cayman, Helsinki, Finland and Punta Mita, Mexico, totaling $21,550. Throughout the five-year period, Green accepted $175,000 in travel, while Lugar accepted $150,000.
The groups have compiled a searchable "Power Trips" database that contains information from the travel disclosure documents. Constituents can search specific travelers, destinations and costs, and can view actual travel documents. The groups said they spent nine months sifting through disclosure documents, many of which were housed in a sub-basement of a government building; some of the forms uncovered were torn, misfiled or illegible.