"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.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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