WASHINGTON -- Propelled by her growing interest in Serbian-American affairs, Rep. Helen Delich Bentley was by far the most frequent traveler in the state's congressional delegation last year, according to financial disclosure reports released yesterday.
The Baltimore County Republican listed 23 expenses-paid trips sponsored by interest groups, private corporations or others, almost double the total of any other Maryland member of Congress. Nine of Mrs. Bentley's trips were paid for by Serbian-American groups around the United States and Canada.
Mrs. Bentley, 68, a conservative with Serbian roots, has emerged as a vocal critic of the U.S. government's hard-line policy toward Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, the last Communist strongman in Eastern Europe.
Though Serbia is widely seen as the aggressor in the war-torn Balkans, Mrs. Bentley strongly disputes that view and favors a peace conference that would redraw the former Yugoslav borders along ethnic lines.
Among Mrs. Bentley's Serbian-related travel was a Nov. 30 trip to Chicago paid for by Serbnet Inc., the Serbian American National Information Network. The group hopes to mount a million-dollar pro-Serbian public relations and lobbying effort in the United States.
As The Sun reported this week, Mrs. Bentley's activities in helping to organize Serbnet apparently violated House rules, which prohibit using congressional staff and stationery for personal or political purposes.
Mrs. Bentley, who has few Serbian constituents, was elected president of Serbnet in February.
Her expenses-paid travel last year included speaking engagements in April in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, for which the Circle of Serbian Sisters picked up her airfare, food and lodging expenses, and a two-day trip to Chicago in late $l December, paid for by the Serbian Democratic Society.
The Maryland member of Congress with the next highest number of expenses-paid trips, Democratic Rep. Tom McMillen of Crofton, listed 12, including one to the Danny Thompson Golf Tournament in Idaho and another to the Electronics Industries Association in Chicago.
He was followed by Republican Rep. Constance A. Morella with seven expenses-paid trips, and Democrats Steny H. Hoyer and Wayne T. Gilchrest, with four each.
Mr. McMillen listed a holding worth between $750,000 and $1.25 million in American Beeper, a Columbia, Md., telephone beeper company, and other investments in stocks and oil and gas properties.
Mr. McMillen and Democratic Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin of Baltimore remain the wealthiest among the eight-member House delegation, according to the reports.
Included among Mr. Cardin's assets is a trust created by his grandfather, Benjamin L. Green, valued at more than $1 million and stock in B. Green & Co., a Baltimore food distributor, worth between $100,000 and $250,000.
Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a Baltimore Democrat, last fall purchased between $1,000 and $15,000 in stock in Black Entertainment Television, according to the reports, which give ranges in assets and incomes, rather than specific figures.
Mr. Mfume picked up $11,800 in speaking fees, mostly for his appearances on "First Sunday," a WBAL-TV (Channel 11) talk show. He donated the entire amount to charity.
Other Maryland lawmakers who donated speaking fees to charities include Mr. Hoyer ($10,750), Rep. Beverly B. Byron ($600), Mr. Cardin ($6,000), Mrs. Bentley ($4,150) and Mrs. Morella ($733).