WASHINGTON — Arizona’s House and Senate members took an average of just under two privately sponsored trips since the start of this Congress, ninth most in the nation.
An analysis of data on such travel, from the Clerk of the House and from the government watchdog website LegiStorm, showed that Arizona’s 11 delegation members took an average of 1.9 trips since January 2013.
But those trips were relatively cheap. The average trip for an Arizona delegation member during the period was $8,144.36, the 21st-highest when compared to other states’ delegations.
Maine’s three delegation members topped the list for number of trips, at an average of seven each, while Oklahoma was tops for the cost of the trips its members took, at an average of $18,035.43. The trips ranged from conferences around the corner to fact-finding trips to Israel, Colombia and Turkey, among other locations.
Trips financed by private groups are criticized by some as just another way for interest groups to engage in “influence peddling on Capitol Hill.”
But members of Congress defend the travel, which is funded without tax dollars, as beneficial for lawmakers trying to grapple with complex issues. And supporters of such trips note that reporting requirements guarantee transparency.
Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Phoenix, said “because there’s transparency and because there’s great oversight by the ethics committee … these trips are valuable for members to take.”
Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said disclosure of these trips is important “so you know who’s influencing a member of Congress.”
“Often these trips are very expensive and very lavish and at the very least, they provide access to members of Congress, and frequently those sponsoring the travel want something,” she said.
A furor erupted earlier this month when the House Committee on Ethics dropped privately funded travel from the list of things that members have to report on their personal financial disclosure forms. Lawmakers would still have been required to report such travel to the Clerk of the House, but the committee reversed itself soon after objections were raised.
Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, said it is important that it is as easy as possible for the public to find information on trips because of the influence privately funded travel can provide. He said “privately sponsored travel is one of the most effective means of influence peddling on Capitol Hill.”
But Sloan said that some trips might be good.
“All trips aren’t bad … Paris with a very low meeting schedule, that seems like a boondoggle, but on the other hand, if members are regulating meat-packing plants, it’s probably good for them to see a meat-packing plant,” she said. “So it depends on what the trips are.”
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, said in an emailed statement: “Witnessing events and locations from the front lines is always more informative than just reading about it. Though I have rarely participated in any private travel, I know other members of Congress who believe it has been beneficial.”
But he agreed with Pastor and the others that “privately funded travel should be publicly disclosed.”
Pastor also said that privately sponsored trips can be a valuable opportunity for lawmakers to socialize.
“It allows members of Congress to be able to socialize and meet and be able to know each other, which is greatly needed in today’s Congress,” he said.
But an analysis of the data showed many trips sponsored by partisan groups. The Heritage Foundation has sponsored more trips for Arizona lawmakers during the last year and a half than any other organization, for example, funding six of the 21 trips taken by Arizona lawmakers since the start of 2013.
Whatever the benefits may be, Holman said the potential for abuse demands close scrutiny of such trips.
“It’s a very powerful influence-peddling tool to buy someone a luxurious vacation and, after, you would go back to them and ask for them to vote a certain way or help promote a certain government contract,” he said.
“There is a sense of obligation to do so. That’s the whole purpose of privately sponsored travel in the first place.”
- 7 common ways to get sued by your employees
- Why it might be time to upgrade your toilet
- Arizona teachers are building a better future by using technology in the classroom
- How to make summer reading fun for the whole family
- How to find relief for chronic joint pain
- Can the NBA Lottery save the Suns?
- Skip Urgent Care: 5 ailments you can treat with telemedicine
- Skin Cancer in Arizona: Stats, facts and new immunotherapy drugs making strides
- Distracted walking injuries end up not so funny
- Scary situations: 5 quick tips before you let a contractor in your home
- Four ways telemedicine is changing the health care industry
- 5 mistakes homeowners make in the spring
- Three rivers run through it: Exploring Arizona's waterways
- Smart home basics: things you need to know to get started
- 5 Surprising things causing back pain
- Arizona agriculture is a $17.1B industry
- Timeline: Arizona's roots in brewing history
- 5 reasons to love the D-backs this season
- Tips for taking your home entertainment experience to the backyard
- Tech-related injuries your parents never experienced
- Workers comp: Signs your co-worker could be a fraud
- Who's the real founder of America's pastime?
- Epidemic rising? What you need to know about Alzheimer's in Arizona
- 5 unforgettable Wooden Award winners
- Family and hard work are keys to success of modern dairy farmers
- Genetic testing could hold answers for colon cancer survival
- Cold beers and baseball: A beer lover's guide to Spring Training
- Telecommuting: 5 tips to make it work for employers and employees
- See how top CFOs feel about economic growth in the Valley
- Migraine myths that keep patients from effective treatments