Congressional junkets the norm
April 26, 2005
What would you like your local congressman to do for you? Would you have a better chance of getting your wish if you invited him to fly with you to the Bahamas, where he will give a speech and then play a round of golf with you and some friends before you fly him back? You’d have plenty of time to educate him regarding the merits of your idea, and it doesn’t hurt that he had a good time and was made to feel important.
In the past five years, some 600 members of the House and Senate – which means virtually all of the current members plus a few who have retired since 2000 – have taken some 5,410 privately funded trips valued at $16 million – about $3,000 per trip.
The ethics rules, if I may use the term loosely, say members of Congress may not take trips funded by lobbyists, but it’s okay for a lobbyist’s employer to fund the trip, and the lobbyist can go along for the ride. The rule is a sham of course. It’s worst than having no rule at all, because it is specifically designed to mislead the public into thinking Congress actually cares about influence peddling. The rule brazenly insults the intelligence of the voter and taxpayer.
Of the $16 million spent this way since 2000, more than half was spent by not-for-profit organizations who don’t even have to disclose who is providing the money, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, an online service that provides campaign-finance and lobbying data.
Even when the financier is disclosed, only a small fraction of intensely interested voters pay any attention to such information, and the lobbyists give the congressmen snappy answers to explain why the special tax break or research funding he voted for is good for all of us, not just those who paid for his vote.
This is one of the practices for which House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is in hot water, but it’s laughable for Democrats to condemn DeLay for accepting junkets. According to the PoliticalMoneyLine study, Republicans took 2,375 such trips in the past five years, while Democrats took 3,025 – 650 more than Republicans. DeLay ranked 28th overall for value of trips and 114th in number of trips taken.
The unfortunate fact is that Congress is a corrupt institution full of power-hungry, self-serving egomaniacs who can’t be trusted with your money, and the only thing you can do about it is to pull the level for the one who is likely to let you keep the most of what you earn.
Or, you could buy an extra ticket for your next trip to the Bahamas.