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Congress, Staff on Power Trip: Privately Funded Travel Adds Up

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June 6, 2006 | by Wendy Leopold

Washington, June 5, 2006 -- A new study of more than 25,000 public documents reveals that members of Congress are not alone in taking millions of dollars worth of privately funded trips. Lawmakers and their aides took nearly 23,000 privately sponsored trips to places from Kansas to Kazakhstan, at a cost of almost $50 million, according to a new study by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), American Public Media and Northwestern University's Medill News Service.

"Power Trips: Congressional Staffers Share the Road" is the result of a year-long investigation by American Public Media reporters, Northwestern University Medill School graduate students and Center for Public Integrity staffers who analyzed 25,000 travel documents from January 2000 to June 2005, filed not only by Congress members but also by their staffs. The study is a follow-up to the widely cited "Power Trips: Congress Hits the Road," an investigation of privately sponsored travel by Congress members released two years ago by Northwestern University's Medill School and American Public Media.

In looking at travel by both Congressmen and their staffers, the new "Power Trips" study finds that the lion's share of the nearly $50 million spent on trips by private sponsors was enjoyed by Congressional staffers, the powerful Beltway gatekeepers to Congress members who special interests want to reach. Like their bosses, the study also found, staffers repeatedly ignored travel disclosure requirements and House and Senate rules.

Among the major findings, the Center for Public Integrity, Medill News Service and American Public Media reports that:

• Many privately funded trips taken by Congress were sponsored by corporations, trade associations and nonprofit groups with business interests on Capitol Hill.

• Often, the travel amounted to pricey jaunts to some of the world's best-known vacation destinations. From January 2000 through June 2005, congressional travelers took at least 200 trips to Paris, 150 to Hawaii, and 140 to Italy.

• Disclosure forms also show that at least 500 trips cost $10,000 or more, 16 cost $25,000 or more, and the cost of one exceeded $30,000. There were $500-a-night hotel rooms, $25,000 corporate jet rides and other extravagant perks.

Both Democrats and Republicans took advantage of privately funded travel. Of the two dozen congressional offices that accepted the most trips, 15 were occupied by Republicans. Of the 25 individual lawmakers who accepted more than $120,000 worth of travel during the study period, 17 were Democrats.

"Power Trips: Congressional Staffers Share the Road" includes a series of radio broadcasts and a website produced and distributed by American Public Media's Marketplace daily business and economics news program and its national documentary unit, American RadioWorks, that begin today on Marketplace Morning Report and Marketplace; a series of more than 30 Medill News Service newspaper articles and website reports; and a package of investigative stories and interactive features at the Center for Public Integrity's website.

For more information, please visit the following URLs:

www.americanradioworks.org/power
www.publicintegrity.org
www.medillnewsdc.com/power_trips/  

PRESS CONFERENCE SPEAKERS

Ellen Shearer is the William F. Thomas Professor and assistant dean at Northwestern University's Medill School. She is co-director of the Medill News Service, which has as clients more than 40 newspapers, Web sites and TV and radio stations. Shearer led the news service's "Y Vote 2000: Politics of a New Generation" project which covered the presidential campaigns in ways that engaged young adults. She also led major reporting and research projects in 1996 and 2000 on why Americans don't vote. She is co-author of the book "Nonvoters: America's No-Shows," has written chapters in five other books and is a regular contributor to "The American Editor" magazine. Shearer is curator of the Mongerson Prize for Investigative Reporting on the News, coordinates judging for the White House Correspondents' Association's annual awards and is a member of the board of the Washington Press Club Foundation.

Chris Farrell is Economics Editor for American Public Media's Marketplace, Marketplace Money and American RadioWorks. Farrell is also a contributing economics editor at Business Week magazine, where he previously held positions as economics editor and corporate finance editor. Farrell was host of public television's Right On The Money and prior to that, finance editor at Business Times on ESPN and was heard on Business Times Radio. He holds degrees from the London School of Economics and Stanford University.

Wendell Rawls is currently the Executive Director at the Center for Public Integrity and a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter and editor. His career spans more than 35 years in journalism and media, beginning in 1967 at The Nashville Tennessean. He was the first national correspondent at The Philadelphia Inquirer (where he won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 1977); was a Washington correspondent and then Southern Bureau chief of The New York Times; and assistant managing editor for news at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He also won the National Headliner Award for Outstanding Public Service, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Journalism Award Grand Prize, the Heywood Broun Journalism Award and several other awards. While he was an editor in Atlanta, his staff produced a Pulitzer Prize winner and four additional Pulitzer Prize finalists in two years. He is the author of one book, Cold Storage, has written for magazines, motion pictures and episodic television (Law & Order) and produced several television movies. Most recently he was a professor in the School of Journalism at Middle Tennessee State University. He occupied the Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies at MTSU in 2001.

ABOUT THE INSTITUTIONS BEHIND THE STUDY

Medill News Service is a print, broadcast and Web news service with offices in Washington, D.C. and Chicago that serve more than 50 newspapers, Web sites and TV and radio stations across the country. Staffed by students from Northwestern University's Medill School, it provides breaking and in-depth news coverage on politics, civil rights, education, energy and other issues.

American Public Media™ is the nation's second-biggest producer of public radio programs, reaching 14.2 million listeners nationwide each week. National programs include A Prairie Home Companion®, Weekend America®, Saint Paul Sunday®, Marketplace®, Marketplace Money®, The Splendid Table®, Speaking of Faith® and special reports produced by its national documentary unit, American RadioWorks®.  Marketplace can be found on the Web at http://marketplace.org/ and American RadioWorks at http://americanradioworks.org. Source: Data are copyright Arbitron, Inc. Arbitron data are estimates only. Spring 2005/Fall 2005 average

The Center for Public Integrity produces original, responsible investigative journalism to make institutional power more transparent and accountable. It is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.

Topics: Research