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  •   Congress's Tab for Free Travel in '97: $6.4 Million

    Charts: Who's getting free travel, and who's sponsoring the trips
    By Ruth Marcus
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, July 21, 1998; Page A17

    Corporations, trade groups and other outside interests spent $6.4 million last year on trips for members of Congress and their staffs, according to records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

    The Single Most Expensive Privately Sponsored Trip

    House Speaker Newt Gingrich
    Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.)

    Total expenses: $33,141.20
    Who traveled: Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and his wife
    Sponsor: Atlantic Richfield
    Purpose: Speech
    Beginning travel date: Dec. 1, 1997
    Destination: London
    Transportation expenses: $20,268.55
    Lodging expenses: $12,235.12
    Meal expenses: $637.53
    The group, which studies the influence of money in politics, built a searchable, computerized database of the congressional travel disclosure forms (at on the World Wide Web). House and Senate gift rules permit members, staffs and spouses to accept free travel from outside groups as long as it relates to congressional business.

    Of the $6.4 million in travel, $2.6 million went for trips by members and their spouses. Republican lawmakers and staff, who enjoy a majority in both houses of Congress, accepted $4.1 million in free travel, compared with $2.3 million for Democrats, according to the center's report.

    The study showed that the nonpartisan Aspen Institute spent the most money on travel for lawmakers, $437,000, to destinations ranging from Hershey, Pa., to Lanai, Hawaii, and Barcelona for various conferences.

    Other big spenders on travel included the Chinese National Association of Industry & Commerce, a Taiwanese business group that spent $328,000 to bring 88 staffers to Taiwan, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which underwrote 58 congressional trips.

    Leading the House in the most expensive trip taken by a lawmaker, as well as the greatest amount of free travel accepted – over $44,000 – was House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

    The bill for Gingrich's four-day trip to London, courtesy of Atlantic Richfield Co., came to $33,000, including $12,000 in lodging alone. Two Gingrich aides also racked up bills of nearly $9,000 on the trip. Gingrich also took a $10,000 trip to Davos, Switzerland, to attend the World Economic Forum.

    "With his PhD in European history, expertise in military policy and years of governmental experience, the speaker is often in demand for international events," said Christina Martin, spokeswoman for Gingrich. "All travel of this nature has and will continue to be approved by the ethics committee."

    Asked about Gingrich's $12,000 hotel bill at Claridge's, one of London's finest hotels, Martin said, "Arco selected the hotel."

    On the Senate side, the most frequent – or at least the most expensive – flier was Senate Finance Committee Chairman William V. Roth Jr. (R-Del.), who made two trips to Hong Kong courtesy of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The total bill, including one trip each for Roth's wife Jane and his son, was $35,414.

    Roth spokesman Brian Tassinari said the trips were appropriate and relevant to Roth's duties as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and his other responsibilities. "If he's traveled more than other senators, it's probably because of his responsibilities," Tassinari said.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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