Ex-Aide to DeLay Often Traveled on Others' Tab

By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 9, 2006

A former chief of staff to then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) was described yesterday in a nonprofit groups' study as one of the top two recipients of privately financed travel among congressional staff from 2000 to 2005, including some trips paid indirectly by companies with business pending before Congress.

Susan Hirschmann, DeLay's chief of staff from 1997 until she became a Washington lobbyist in 2002, took 18 trips from 2000 to 2002 -- many with her husband -- at a cost to others of more than $85,000, according to a tally by the Center for Public Integrity, American Public Media and Northwestern University's Medill News Service.

That put her in a close second place behind Brian Gaston, whose 39 trips over the five-year period studied by the groups cost $87,000. Gaston is now the chief of staff to House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

DeLay, who is formally resigning from the House today under a cloud from his ties to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and DeLay's indictment in Texas for money-laundering, was himself a leading traveler at the expense of corporations and other private groups.

In disclosures to the House clerk, Hirschmann described the purpose of nine of her trips as "educational," four trips as "planning" conferences, one as a "staff seminar," one as a "retreat," and one as a "legislative meeting." She described the purpose of another -- a $2,321 industry-funded visit to Orlando in May 2001 -- as meant "to learn about safety issues in the amusement industry."

Her husband, David Hirschmann, a registered lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce through mid-2000 and now an executive there, accompanied her on 12 of the trips. In the summer of 2001, they strung together a series of five sponsored trips costing a total of $34,000, and stopped in Scotland, Israel, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore before returning to Washington.

Other trips were to Italy; Hawaii; Palm Beach, Fla.; the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia; the Kingsmill Resort in Virginia; and San Diego. The Washington Post has previously reported that during a costly trip to London and Scotland, David Hirschmann's plane ticket was paid by Abramoff's credit card, and most of the expenses were covered indirectly by an Indian tribe and a gambling services company.

Hirschmann did not respond to an e-mail and telephone call. Gaston declined comment. Lobbyist-paid travel for congressional staff members is prohibited; corporate-paid travel must be reimbursed.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company