- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 28, 2005

I’m a travelin’, I’ve made a lot of stops, all over the world….

Ricky Nelson

It is no excuse to say “everybody does it” if what everybody is doing is unlawful. However, in the case of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who has been singled out by Democrats for criticism because of trips he took that were, in some cases, apparently at least partly paid for by lobbyists, the party pointing a finger at Mr. DeLay should look at all the fingers pointing back at Democrats.

A study by PoliticalMoneyLine (www.politicalmoneyline.com) has found that during the last five years, out of the $16 million in congressional travel paid for by private funds, more than half (almost $8.8 million) came from tax-exempt organizations that receive funds from others. One of the raps on Mr. DeLay is that some of his trips, including one to Russia in 1997, were reportedly underwritten by lobbyists, but through a nonprofit organization. Mr. DeLay has said he had no knowledge of lobbyists funding such trips, which might have violated House ethics rules.

According to the study by PoliticalMoneyLine, many organizations paying for congressional travel are tax-exempt entities not required to disclose their donors to the public in the IRS Form 990 reports they must file.

The study found that during the five-year period surveyed, members of Congress took 5,410 trips (Democrats, 3,025 trips; Republicans, 2,375 trips; others, 10 trips.) Altogether, 605 members of both houses took trips, with Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin Republican, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, receiving the most gifts of travel (19 trips valued at $167,960). By contrast, Mr. DeLay was 28th on the list with 14 trips valued at $94,568.

Rep. Harold Ford, Tennessee Democrat, can claim the prize for most trips (60), but Mr. Ford’s less expensive domestic travel totaled just $61,000. Organizations spending the most for congressional travel, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, were the Aspen Institute ($2,897,602) and the Ripon Society ($694,042), both ideologically liberal organizations.

After Mr. Sensenbrenner, the next four members receiving the most gifts of travel were Democrats: Rep. Gene Green of Texas, former Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana, Rep. Robert Wexler of Florida and Rep. Maurice Hinchey of New York. None of the Democrats raised questions about any of these because their target is Mr. DeLay, probably the most effective majority leader since the days when Democrats ruled. Mr. DeLay resists and often thwarts the Democrats’ agenda. Since he continues winning re-election, Democrats are trying to take him down using their scandal machine.

There’s plenty more in the PoliticalMoneyLine report that bears investigation if Democrats are serious about “exposing” ethically questionable travel. More than 127 travel reports filed by members listed no destinations. Twenty reports listed no trip sponsor. No costs were listed for 106 reports, and 51 reports showed no purpose for the travel. Four reports failed to show any travel dates. No wonder some members and their office staff have rushed to file amended reports. An aide to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi took a trip in 2004 to South Korea. The aide acknowledged not reporting the trip only after a reporter for The Washington Post reporter asked about it. The aide, said The Post, filed a full disclosure form “a few hours after the newspapers’ inquiry” and sent a note to the ethics committee, saying, “I did not know I was supposed to file these forms and I apologize for its lateness.”

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that House Republicans have decided to rescind a rules change they pushed through in January that led to shutting down the ethics committee. The latest move could clear the way for consideration of charges against Mr. DeLay and others.

The House Ethics Committee has not been operating because Democrats would not allow it to meet following the rules change that required an ethics complaint be dismissed if the evenly divided panel deadlocked. We’ll now see if Democrats are as enthusiastic about maintaining an ethical standard when some of their own are questioned with Tom DeLay.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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