Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Free Travel Anyone?

A Center for Public Integrity Report reveals that Indiana's Sen. Richard Lugar (R) accepted nearly $150,000 in privately-paid trips over the past 5 years, nearly as much as his annual congressional salary of $162,500 according to the Hill. Private sponsors paid about $50 million over the 5-year period to send members of the Congress and their staffs on at least 23,000 trips. The Hill writes, "If voters find industry-sponsored junkets objectionable, a study out today could be bad news for globetrotting lawmakers." The report says this is the first time anyone has pinpointed the full cost of privately funded congressional travel.

As large as the $50 million figure is, it under-reports the extent of privately-paid travel. Federal rules permit members of Congress and their staff to fly on private luxury jets instead of commercial aircraft like the rest of us as long as they reimburse the company for the price of a first-class ticket on a commercial airline. A trip that might cost $800 on a commercial airline could cost 10 times or more on a private jet. This loophole allows the wealthy to curry favor with members of Congress. In Indiana, billionaires Bill Cook of the Cook Group and Mel and Herb Simon of Simon Properties have been known to be generous in loaning their private luxury jets to certain members of Indiana's congressional delegation.

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