Last year, our elected officials took 1,893 trips at a combined cost of $6,015,824. That’s roughly 5 trips per day and 4 trips per member of Congress. Since 2000, the first year Legistorm data became available, members of Congress have taken nearly 40,000 trips abroad.
Many of these trips, taken under the guise of “education” or “outreach,” are actually paid for by special interest groups and can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Members of Congress are often invited to bring along their spouses, fly in First or Business class, and stay in swank 4-star hotels.
The most expensive trip so far came last year in the form of North Carolina Democrat Mike McIntyre’s week-long excursion to Australia, which cost more $49,000. To put that number in perspective: The average American family of four brings in about $51,000 in an entire year.
In the wake of the Abramoff lobbying corruption scandal, lobbyists have been banned from organizing or paying for these trips. However, there are still plenty of loopholes. As the National Journal reports:
some of the nonprofits underwriting them today have extremely close ties to lobbying groups, including sharing staff, money, and offices.
All of this would be bad enough, but this week things got even worse. According to the same National Journal report:
It’s going to be a little more difficult to ferret out which members of Congress are lavished with all-expenses-paid trips around the world after the House has quietly stripped away the requirement that such privately sponsored travel be included on lawmakers’ annual financial-disclosure forms.
Yes, yes you read that right.
The move, made behind closed doors and without a public announcement by the House Ethics Committee, reverses more than three decades of precedent. Gifts of free travel to lawmakers have appeared on the yearly financial form dating back its creation in the late 1970s, after the Watergate scandal.
So to summarize: Your senator or representative has probably taken or will probably take an all-expense paid trip funded by a special interest group. And now, thanks to a sneaky back-room deal, they don’t even have to report it. They’ve got their cake and they’re eating it too.
The National Journal article caused quite a stir. Enough, in fact, to elicit this response from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi:
While the committee’s aim was to simplify the disclosure process, Congress must always move in the direction of more disclosure, not less.
No word yet on if a vote to restore the disclosure requirement will actually take place.
So, where are our politicians traveling to exactly? Well, thanks to the folks at the Washington Post, we have this handy interactive map to track these trips abroad: