House members remain a well-traveled crowd Records show most still accept free trips

June 12, 1992|By Sara Fritz | Sara Fritz,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Despite growing criticism of congressional perks and a newly imposed ban on honorariums, many House members made no effort to scale back on trips to posh resorts and exotic foreign destinations at the expense of special interests in 1991, according to financial disclosure documents made public yesterday.

In addition to the usual all-expenses-paid junkets to such warm-weather havens as Boca Raton, Fla., Palm Springs, Calif., and Phoenix, Ariz., in 1991, members of Congress also traveled to Kuwait at the expense of Fluor Corp. of Irvine, Calif., and toured China on a trip sponsored by the government of the People's Republic.

Rep. Patricia Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat, did more traveling at the expense of others than any of her colleagues. According to her financial disclosure report, she took at least 50 trips, mostly for speaking engagements. But unlike many other well-traveled members, she appeared to shy from exotic resorts.

Likewise, Minority Whip Newt Gingrich of Georgia took at least 46 such trips, including a three-day junket to Bermuda at the expense of the conservative National Review.

Even though House members no longer can pocket honorariums as a result of ethics rules that took effect in January 1991, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, an Illinois Democrat, collected $110,000 in speaking fees, which he gave to undisclosed charities. The total was a sharp cutback from the $310,000 in honorariums he collected in 1990.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman, a California Democrat, another big recipient of honorariums in the past, accepted only $21,250 in 1991, also passing it along to charities.

But the end of honorariums clearly did not discourage House members from accepting free trips from the same special interest groups that previously paid them appearance fees. Although trips for members of Congress sponsored by special interests now are limited somewhat by 1989 amendments to the ethics rules, they are still permitted.

Many members of Congress reported attending industry gatherings including the National Association of Broadcasters in Las Vegas, Nev., the American Bankers Association in Palm Beach, Fla., the National Cable Television Association in New Orleans and the Tobacco Institute in Palm Springs.

In most cases, House members spent at least three days at resorts, usually accompanied by family members. Industry groups usually paid for all travel expenses, lodging, entertainment costs and incidentals.

Those House members with the most enticing travel itineraries were members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over a wide range of industries and financial institutions.

One committee member, Rep. Matthew J. Rinaldo, a Republican from New Jersey, made no fewer than seven trips to Florida with United States Telephone, Home Shopping Network, the Futures Industry Association, Florida Power & Light, Dun & Bradstreet and the Securities Industry Association paying his bills.

Rep. Bob Carr, a Michigan Democrat, took 14 such trips, all with his wife, including a four-day stay in Hawaii at the expense of the Associated General Contractors and a three-day stay in Brussels, Belgium, paid for by the Airport Operators Council International.

Among those who traveled to Kuwait at the expense of Fluor were House Republicans Helen Delich Bentley of Maryland, Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, Elton Gallegly of California, Chalmers P. Wylie of Ohio and Bill Paxon of New York. Fluor paid $2,724 for the airfare of each member of Congress who traveled aboard its plane.

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