Lawmakers took millions in free trips: study
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Members of the U.S. Congress and their aides took free trips worth nearly $50 million paid for by corporations, trade associations and other private groups between January 2000 and June 2005, according to a study released on Monday.
Some of the 23,000 trips featured $500-a-night hotel rooms, $25,000 corporate jet rides and visits to popular spots such as Paris, Hawaii and Colorado ski resorts, said the study, by the Center for Public Integrity, American Public Media and Northwestern University's Medill News Service.
"In many instances, trip sponsors appeared to be buying access to elected officials or their advisors," the study said.
While some excursions were legitimate fact-finding missions, others appeared to have been little more than "pricey vacations" wrapped around speeches or seminars in which the lawmaker was joined by family members, the study said.
The data emerged from a nine-month-long review of congressional travel disclosure forms and coincided with ongoing federal investigations of political corruption and efforts to clean up how Congress does business.
Lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud charges in January and admitted he showered golf trips, sports tickets and other gifts on lawmakers in return for actions that would help his clients.
In response, the Senate and House of Representatives have voted to toughen ethics guidelines and require greater disclosure. But critics have charged more needs to be done.
Under a bill passed by the House, members would need prior approval from the House ethics committee before flying on corporate jets or accepting privately funded trips.
Lawmakers and their aides can take trips financed by outside groups to help them learn about issues or to deliver speeches, such as commencement addresses. Lobbyists may not pay for congressional trips but can help to arrange them.
Congressional trip sponsors, the study said, included Microsoft, Time Warner and The Walt Disney Co., along with the Association of American Railroads.
Tom White, an association spokesman, was quoted in the study as saying that such getaways "provide an opportunity for us to discuss our issues with members in an atmosphere where you are not time-constrained.
"If you try to talk to a member for any great length of time ... in Washington, they are simply too busy," White said.
Former House Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLay and his staffers accepted about a half million dollars in trips during the period under review -- more than any other congressional office, the study said.
DeLay resigned as the number two House Republican in the House and will leave Congress this week,, after he was indicted of violating campaign finance laws in his home state of Texas.
Delay certainly is not a good role model for Republican Leadership, or in showing an HONEST politician, BUT Delay is far from the only one that has taken advatage of their station to make life real easy for themselves.
It is not like Congressional and Senator leaders are poor, by far they are not, many are millionaires, or in the high end class and make approximately $130,000 to $140,000 a Year. All the 'perks' and 'gifts' are all extra, or the icing on the cake.
Lobbyists should not have special privledges, gifts and perks are ways to buy Congressmen's and Senator's time, something which normal every day people like you and I are not able to do.
When our lawmakers accept these gifts, many feel it is bribery, and in some case it is, a way to influence a lawmaker, soften him or her up to your way of thinking. It may be something simple or innocent, but the view of the public may not realize this, and so you should pay your own way Senators and Congressmen.
Stop accepting what the public feels like are bribes that are being used to soften you up, to influence your decision, or perhaps not go as hard on a company because of the influence they treated you to with 'gifts'.
Link....gifts are nothing more than a "back-handed bribe."
CARSON CITY -- Nearly six of every 10 Nevadans would support a law to prevent legislators from accepting gifts, a Review-Journal poll has found.
The survey of 625 Nevadans found 58 percent favor banning legislators from accepting gifts, while 35 percent oppose the idea and 7 percent are undecided.
In the wake of a scandal in which 11 Southern Nevada legislators accepted tickets valued at more than $300 to Rolling Stones and Luis Miguel concerts, several proposals are being prepared to block or limit gifts to lawmakers and other public officials.
Craig Walton, president of the Nevada Center for Public Ethics, said gifts are nothing more than a "back-handed bribe."
"Is it bad morally to just say no?" he asked. "Lobbyists put themselves in a loving, schmoozing relationship with legislators with gifts. Joe Nevada and Jane Nevada don't give gifts and don't get the same access to legislators."
We normal every day citizens do not have access to our lawmakers like those with money to stuff into our lawmakers coffers in the form of donations, giving them front row boxing tickets, box seats at special sporting events, limosine travel, "speaking fees", free golf trips, ect all for free because they are "gifts".
Christmas must come every day for our lawmakers.....
Even Colorado thinks Politicans are getting to many "perks" and "Gifts".
The measure contains several exceptions to the $50 limit. Sports and cultural tickets would be limited to $100 and lunches with lobbyists would not be covered.
It also would bar lawmakers from getting paid to support or oppose a ballot initiative and keep them from accepting speaking fees.
"It's clear from looking at other states with strong ethics codes that Colorado's law is lacking in critical areas," he said. "I think this bill would put us further down the path of expecting the best in ethics from legislators and other high-ranking appointees."
We expect our lawmakers to be ethical and to set themselves to a higher set of standards, because they hold a higher office, "With great power comes great responsibility", but unfortunately another old phrase "Absolute power corrupts absolutely" is not just a phrase it seems when it comes to our lawmakers, both Republican and Democrat.
What happens when lawmakers don't follow the law? CBS 42 Investigates found at least 70 state lawmakers didn't report gifts they've received.
It's perfectly legal for lawmakers to give each other gifts, but they are required to disclose any gift worth more than $250 on their personal financial statement filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.
Problem is many don't.
CBS 42 Investigates analyzed the personal financial statements for the past three years for every committee chairman in both the Texas House and Senate. Out of more than 70 lawmakers, only two disclosed end of session gifts.
State Representative Elvira Reyna was given a $407 broach from Neiman Marcus. Kino Flores was given an $825 shotgun from McBride’s gun store. Ruben Hope's gun from McBride’s cost $1,700. None of them disclosed the gifts on their financial statements.
What about a $2,700 watch given to Lucio from a colleague in the Senate?
"The watch I did receive, but I didn't even question how much that cost. I know Senator Harris gave it to me from his heart, it's engraved,” Lucio said. “It was for when I was governor for a day. It's the most expensive thing I’ve got."
The ethics commission says the issue is clear. It's guidelines say "you must report all gifts worth more than $250, unless it's a gift from a relative, a political contribution or a gift from a lobbyist.”
But two of the top lawmakers say they aren't required to report gifts-- like the $1,100 hat senators gave to Lt. Governor David Dewhurst last session or the handmade saddle he was given the session before.
House Speaker Tom Craddick's spokesman said he isn't required to report the $2,000 piece of art from Cleggett Rey Art Gallery given at the end of the last session by some of the members of the Texas House.
They said because multiple people gave the gifts--and no single person spent more than $250 -- they aren't required to report the gifts.
I understand birthdays, Anniversaries, Weddings, but it seems like there is an awful lot of gift-giving between lawmakers also, much of which does not get reported or ever heard much about in the public forums.
When lawmakers give each other extravagent gifts, what is the real reasoning behind it?
Could it be that they are trying to influence another lawmaker to their side for a vote?
I do not see many of our lawmakers as the benisons of charity with all these gifts they give to each others. I see it as an alternative way of "doing business" in Washington.Types of Gifts:El Paso County Lawmakers -
* $75 for a Denver Nuggets basketball ticket from a Qwest lobbyist - Larry Liston (R-House District 16)
* A single contribution for a trip to Israel, courtesy of the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado - Andy McElhany (Senate minority leader, R-District 12)
* Includes $1,116 worth of Denver Broncos club seats, courtesy of Colorado Concern, a group consisting of some of the state's most powerful business leaders - Ed Jones (R-Senate District 11)
* Includes $168.86 worth of golf, courtesy of Xcel Energy from Robert Roy Palmer, an Xcel lobbyist - Bill Cadman (R-House District 15)
* Includes $100 worth of golf at The Broadmoor, from the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, and $150 in golf at Red Sky Golf Club in Vail Valley, from the Colorado Association of Home Builders - Keith King (R-House District 21)
* Opening-day tickets to Colorado Rockies baseball from Qwest - Ron May (R-Senate District 10) Former U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Rancho Santa Fe:
Admitted taking $2.4 million in bribes from two defense contractors and evading more than $1 million in taxes. The bribes came in exchange for Cunningham using his influence to arrange lucrative contracts for high-tech equipment for intelligence gathering and analysis.
He collected $2.4 million in homes, yachts, antique furnishings and other bribes on a scale unparalleled in the history of Congress.
Cunningham accepted money and gifts including a Rolls-Royce and $40,000 Persian rugs from defense contractors and others in exchange for steering government contracts their way and other favors.
The case against Cunningham began when authorities started investigating his sale of his Del Mar house to defense contractor Mitchell Wade for $1,675,000, a price inflated by $700,000.
Wade admitted giving Cunningham more than $1 million in gifts, including a yacht, cash, cars, antiques and meals. He pleaded guilty last month to conspiring with Cunningham, among four corruption charges that carry a maximum prison term of 20 years.
I am glad Cunningham is gone, he was a stain that painted more than just the Republican party, but also every lawmaker, Republican and Democrat. I say everyone because it gives a negative impression of our lawmakers as doing the same.
We as American Citizens see this, and think this is how ALL of our lawmakers are, how they behave, that they are corrupt, and so it stains even honest lawmakers unfortunately.Former Rep. Michael Myers, D-Pa. & Former Sen. Harrison Williams, D-N.J.:
Former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill:
Rep. Michael Myers (D-Pa.) was expelled from the House and served about 20 months in prison as a result of the Abscam bribery sting investigation, in which FBI agents posed as Arab businessmen. Sen. Harrison Williams (D-N.J.) was convicted and resigned as the Senate considered an expulsion motion.
Former Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio:
Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), a former Ways and Means chairman, resigned after being indicted for fraud, witness tampering and embezzlement. He lost reelection and later served 15 months in prison. He was pardoned by President Clinton in 2000.
Former Rep. Mario Biaggi, D-N.Y:
Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio) was expelled from the House after being convicted of bribery, obstruction of justice, racketeering and tax evasion. He was sentenced to eight years.
LinkRobert Guy Torricelli (The Torch), D-NJ:
Rep. Mario Biaggi (D-N.Y.) was convicted of accepting illegal gratuities, among other charges, triggering a House ethics investigation. In the meantime, he was convicted in a separate case of racketeering, conspiracy, extortion and bribery involving a defense contractor. He resigned the next day and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Link (Funny how the article NEVER mentions he is a DEMOCRAT though - I had to look him up to see what party affiliation he was.)Bill and Hillary Clinton:
"He likes material things and the finer things in life," said a former aide of Torricelli. "It's very hard to live that lifestyle if you don't have the money."
* 10 pricey Italian suits
* $8,100 Rolex
* Tiffany cuff links
* $1,500 Persian rug
* A big-screen TV
Link* Rep. Richard Decker, R-Colorado Springs
The Washington Post's report that furnishings worth $28,000 that the Clintons are keeping were in fact given to the National Park Service in 1993 to be part of the White House collection. That makes the Clintons look like common thieves. On Monday night, the Clintons blamed their staff, claiming that certain gifts were "improperly catalogued," and promised to give them back.
When the Clintons left Washington, they took with them gifts from two furniture makers who claim they actually had given furnishings to help redecorate the White House—an endeavor that cost $396,000. Among other gifts the Clintons left town with are a kitchen table and four chairs ($3650), a sofa ($2843), lamps ($1170), and a needlepoint rug ($1000). All of these gifts were slated for the redecoration project.
Despite the Clintons' promise to pay for half of the controversial gifts they removed from the White House and the ex-president's assertion that he would use funds from his library project to pay for half of the $650,000 yearly lease for an office on Manhattan's West Side, the fallout from their departure continues to rain down on the capital.
The Washington Post revealed that Clinton had pulled a trick to keep his friend Ronald I. Dozoretz, the health-care magnate, on as a member of the Kennedy Center board. First, Dozoretz, whose term had one year to run, quit the board, and then he was reappointed for a six-year stint by Clinton—a maneuver that raised eyebrows even in Washington's world of small-time socialites. Dozoretz and his wife, Beth, are big Clinton supporters. Last weekend the Clintons announced they would repay $7000—the value of a dining table, server, and golf club, which the Dozoretzes had given them. The Dozoretzes gave about $13,000 to Hillary's Senate campaign, and ponied up $10,000 for the Clinton Legal Defense Fund and $30,000 to Democratic candidates and committees. Beth Dozoretz served as finance chair of the DNC for nine months. Clinton is the godfather of the couple's daughter, and the Dozoretzes have been the Clintons' hosts on Martha's Vineyard.
received a $1,000 check from tobacco giant Philip Morris. * Rep. Richard Decker, R-Colorado Springs
accepted tickets from Philip Morris to Love's Labour's Lost at the Denver Center for Performing Arts.
LinkGregg Rippy, R-Glenwood Springs:
Interviewed again this week, Decker defended the practice of letting lobbyists write bills. "There's no conflict if you're in agreement with what the bill does," he said.
In 2003, Gregg Rippy, then a Republican state representative from Glenwood Springs, introduced a bill that dramatically altered the rights of homeowners seeking to sue homebuilders for major building flaws. Opposed by homeowners' associations, consumer advocates and the trial lawyers that represent them, the bill — which passed — capped monetary awards for defects, such as a home slipping from its foundation, at $250,000.
Running up to his re-election campaign in 2002, just prior to his meeting with lobbyists, Rippy received more than $15,000 in campaign contributions from homebuilders, realtors, mortgage companies, insurers, contractors and other such interests.
Freda Poundstone, a former Republican mayor of Greenwood Village, was among those who fought Rippy. She launched a failed ballot initiative in 2004 to undo the law. She says consumers were simply outgunned by industry interests and Rippy's campaign backers.
"I learned the Legislature doesn't represent the people," says Poundstone, who now lives in Castle Rock. "Big money talks. The people behind this bill had money and hired the lobbyists. We were trying to protect the homeowners, but they forced it through. It is a loss for consumers."
The above shows how gifts, campaign contributions and perks can influence a lawmaker and his decision. Whether he would have introduced the bill without the campaign donation from those that benefited from his bill remains to be seen, but given the coincidence of it, it looks extremely fishy, and does look like he was influenced or "bribed" with monies from a lobbyists to put together a bill that benefitted those lobbying.
Which gives the appearance of corruption of our lawmakers.
Massie Ritsch, a spokesman for the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C.-based group that closely monitors lobbying and campaign donations, says politicians are in dangerous waters when they work closely with those who give them gifts and campaign contributions.
"The danger is, they do the lobbyists' bidding," he says. "[Lobbyists' participating in writing bills] is a phenomenon that makes the average person's jaw drop. There are some good reasons for it, and there are some good reasons for it to stop."
This is something I did not know till I read up on it, that Lobbyists will help devise a Bill with the lawmakers to be voted on. Those lobbyists, with a special interest in getting what THEY want, are helping put Bills forth with our lawmakers.
It just doesn't seem right to me. Does it seem right to you?
There just seems to be an air of entitlement to our lawmakers, that they feel they are entitled to free lunches, free dinners, free tickets to sporting events, free days of golf, free travel, ect.
House Passes Lobbying Reform Bill: Enforcement Not Addressed
WASHINGTON, May 4, 2006 — The U.S. House of Representatives last night narrowly passed new ethics legislation aimed at increasing lobbying disclosures. The vote was 217-213 on the measure, which now must be reconciled with an earlier Senate bill that contains stringent provisions.
The House bill would require lobbyists to file reports quarterly instead of semiannually, list donations made to federal candidates and political action committees, and report public gifts given to lawmakers or congressional aides.
However, critics noted that the bill does not address the need for greater oversight and administration of the rules.
Research and analysis conducted by the Center for Public Integrity shows that from 1998 to 2004, lobbying disclosure rules have gone largely unenforced:
* Nearly 14,000 lobbying documents that should have been filed periodically with the Senate Office of Public Records are missing.
* Almost one in five of all companies registered to lobby are missing required disclosure forms.
* Almost 20 percent of all forms are filed late.
* Nearly 300 individuals and entities that filed some disclosure forms lobbied without registering.
In addition, the findings of a forthcoming Center study of privately sponsored congressional travel will show that:
* Rules prohibiting lobbying firms to pay for travel are often ignored or waived.
* Travel disclosure forms are commonly filed late, are incomplete and often are amended after media scrutiny.
* Members of Congress frequently ignore or have gotten the ethics committee to waive rules restricting the companions they take on privately financed trips.
Center for Public Integrity Executive Director, Roberta Baskin said of the bill, is kind of lobbying reform gives the term 'paper tiger' a new meaning. In its attempt to address the problems at hand, Congress seems to be pursuing a plan to bury itself in paper, making it even harder to enforce the rules."
Previous attempts to address lack of enforcement have been met by strong opposition. In March, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., proposed the creation of an Independent Office of Public Integrity to oversee lobbying activities and enforce disclosure laws. Their amendment was defeated by in a 67-30 vote.
Additional information can be found here:Special Report
Privately Sponsored Trips Hot Tickets on Capitol Hill
Study finds almost $50 million spent on travel for lawmakers and aides.
Lobbying FAQ: What is Permissible? Out of Bounds? Punishable?
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