- Associated Press - Saturday, November 7, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) - A newspaper analysis has found Illinois’ 20 members of Congress have gone on 70 foreign trips and went to 44 countries in the past two years, costing more than $518,000.

Trips can be paid for by a number of entities under congressional rules, including taxpayers, foreign governments and private groups. The Chicago Tribune (http://trib.in/1XV5CIJ) says the actual cost of the trips is hard to pinpoint, with the cost of oft-used military aircraft not listed for taxpayer-funded trips and costs not made public when foreign governments pick up the tab.

Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Channahon was the most frequent flier with nine trips since October 2013. He said his niche is foreign affairs, and goes on trips to “difficult places” to help him learn. Kinzinger was the only member of the Illinois delegation to go to Iraq in the period reviewed, and his other destinations included Afghanistan, Pakistan, Liberia and the demilitarized zone in Korea.

“My constituents want me to be the best-educated member of Congress to represent them, whether it’s international or locally,” Kinzinger said. “It’s always a balance. You’re voting on big issues out here. We have international responsibilities and district responsibilities, and there’s only one of us.”

The top destination for foreign travel was Cuba with nine trips. That was followed by Israel and Ukraine with six trips, and Germany and Poland with five trips.

Former Rep. Aaron Schock, who resigned in March amid a federal investigation of his office and campaign spending, led a 22-member House delegation to Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in South Africa in 2013. He also visited Brazil, India, Vatican City, Myanmar, Japan, South Korea and China, according to records.

Craig Holman, who monitors congressional travel at the watchdog group Public Citizen, said Illinois members of Congress seemed like a “well-traveled delegation” after being told of the Tribune’s findings. He approves of travel to hot spots, but has an unfavorable view of other congressional trips.

“Paris, Prague, Rome, Norway … really raise the specter of being travel junkets as opposed to being educational trips,” Holman said.

Public Citizen and other groups plan to seek from U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan a temporary moratorium on sponsored trips until there are better review protocols, Holman said.

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Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com

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