"POWER TRIPS: CONGRESS HITS THE ROAD"

Contact:  Suzanne Perry
(651) 290-1276
sperry@americanpublicmedia.us
www.americanpublicmedia.us

Contact : Wendy Leopold
(847) 491-4890
w-leopold@northwestern.edu
www.northwestern.edu/news

 

"POWER TRIPS: CONGRESS HITS THE ROAD"
REPORTS EXPOSE RAMPANT ABUSE OF CONGRESSIONAL TRAVEL FUNDED BY OUTSIDE INTEREST GROUPS

Accompanying Web database gives the public access to travel records of their own senators and representatives

(Washington, D.C.) September 27, 2004 — Luxury resorts. Private jets. A trip to the Wimbledon finals. These are just a few of the perks enjoyed by members of Congress — with the tab picked up by outside interests jockeying for influence.

In the last four and a half years, members of Congress have taken more than 4,800 trips funded by private groups at a price tag of $14.4 million, according to an investigation by Northwestern University’s Medill News Service in partnership with American Public Media’s Marketplace business radio program and its national documentary unit, American RadioWorks.

The investigation culminates in "Power Trips: Congress Hits the Road," a series of radio broadcasts and newspaper reports examining the little-publicized rule allowing U.S. representatives and senators to take privately funded trips — and the lack of enforcement of the rules. "Power Trips" puts the spotlight on some of Congress’ most frequent flyers and the groups that most often fund them.

"Power Trips" airs on Marketplace on public radio stations nationwide on Sept. 27 and 28, and appears in print starting Sept. 27 in a 10-part series in 24 daily newspapers served by Medill News Service.

The reports are the result of a four-month investigation by Steve Henn of American RadioWorks and a team of graduate students from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism under the direction of Ellen Shearer, assistant dean of Medill and co-director of the Medill News Service. Together, they built the first congressional travel database, one that includes every travel disclosure form for privately funded trips filed by Congress members from Jan. 1, 2000, through June 30, 2004.

According to the reports, Senate and House members since 2000 have accepted about 200 trips worth $400,000 without disclosing where they went, and another 31 trips worth about $66,000 without disclosing who paid for them.

Members of the public can examine the records of their own — or all — Congress members through the Web-based database at http://www.americanradioworks.org/features/congtravel or http://www.medillnewsdc.com .

IN THE RADIO REPORTS:

Sept. 27, Rules of the Road: Shortly before retiring from Congress, Rep. Tom Bliley (R-Va.) and his wife took a four-day trip to England for $31,000. They flew the Concorde to London, stayed in a $1,000-a-day suite at the Savoy Hotel, and watched the Wimbledon finals from nearly $3,000 seats. The cost to Bliley? Nothing. Brown and Williamson Tobacco footed the bill. Although Bliley disclosed the House rules-violating gift, he never heard a word of complaint from its ethics committee. That’s business as usual on the Hill. The first installment of the "Power Trips" series explores the widespread concerns that many congressional trips are open to abuse.

Sept. 28, King of Travel: The king of congressional travel is Sen. John Breaux (D-La.). In a little more than four years, Breaux has taken 56 all-expense-paid trips. Industry groups, lobbyists and universities have paid his travel expenses of more than $158,000. The amount of free travel Breaux accepted each year exceeds the median household income in the state of Louisiana. This segment examines the tight relationship between Breaux and the pharmaceutical industry, his most generous travel sponsor.

IN THE NEWSPAPER REPORTS:

While Breaux took, on average, a free trip every month at the expense of private groups, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) was Congress’ most frugal legislator, listing 37 trips worth less than $500 each for the same period.

Although some members of Congress took privately funded trips to make speeches in places like Pittsburgh and Peoria, Ill., others went on fact-finding jaunts to Aspen, Colo., or spent $3,000 on meals at a five-day conference in Barcelona, Spain.

The Aspen Institute was the most generous private group to fund trips, spending more than $2.5 million on them. The Ripon Society’s Ripon Educational Fund ranked second, spending $615,000 for 60 trips.

The most popular destination for members of Congress was Florida and its resorts, followed by California and New York. West Virginia, home to the luxurious Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, was fourth. Several foreign cities — Rome and London, for example — also made the top 20 most-popular-destination list.

In addition to the main stories, Medill reporters wrote 14 sidebars on specific states or industries, such as banking and defense contractors.

"Power Trips" was produced by American RadioWorks and Marketplace, which are produced by American Public Media, and Medill News Service, part of the graduate program of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Marketplace is distributed by Public Radio International.

The Medill School of Journalism is widely regarded as one of the top journalism schools in the United States, educating at any given time more than 600 undergraduates and 150 graduate editorial students. Its Washington program, Medill News Service, has covered Capitol Hill for more than 35 years. The news service trains graduate students in political and public affairs journalism as they report for more than 40 newspapers, magazines, Web sites and TV stations.

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Source: Data are copyright Arbitron, Inc. Arbitron data are estimates only.
Fall 2003