Friday, November 24, 2006

Retiring US Rep Kolbe (AZ) $40K Free Trips - Purpose?

By Jennifer Talhelm, Associated Press
Tucson, Arizona 11.23.2006

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe may be retiring at the end of the year, but that hasn't kept him from racking up free trips abroad.
Kolbe, a Tucson Republican who announced his retirement plans a year ago, reported visiting Turkey, Italy, Poland, England, Canada, Spain and Belgium since June — all on the dime of private groups including the Aspen Institute and the German Marshall Fund. Kolbe took more privately paid trips in 2006 than anyone else in Arizona's congressional delegation, according to a list compiled by PoliticalMoneyLine.com, an independent Web site that tracks political spending. Congressional watchdog groups questioned whether it was appropriate for a retiring lawmaker to accept so many privately paid trips right before leaving office, when most of Congress was focused on the November elections. "Privately sponsored travel is supposed to be for official business," said Massie Ritsch, spokesman for the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. "When he knows he's not going to do official business, it raises the question why he needed to take these trips. He won't be able to apply the knowledge from these trips in Congress, because he won't be there."
The value of the trips totaled almost $40,000. Most were for three to five days to take part in international summits such as the Bellagio Conference on Migration in Bellagio, Italy, in July. One, to Geneva, was to a job interview with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. As chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, export financing and related programs, Kolbe weighs in on numerous international issues.
But Kolbe took the trips after his committee approved the foreign-operations bill on May 25, which is one of his key responsibilities. His first privately paid trip of the year was to Istanbul, Turkey, between May 29 and June 4. His spokeswoman, Korenna Cline, said all the travel was cleared through the House ethics panel. Kolbe traveled to Krakow, Poland, and London Aug. 9-18, courtesy of the Aspen Institute. He went to Madrid, Spain, and Brussels, Belgium, Oct. 8-13 for an International Republican Institute program, paid for by that organization. Kolbe's office would not give details about what he learned on the trips or how the travel would have influenced any bills before his committee. Cline said only that the full Congress has not yet finished work on the foreign-aid bill. Kolbe's travel stands out in a year in which many lawmakers cut back on their privately funded trips in the wake of scandals involving congressional travel. PoliticalMoneyLine reported that so far this year, the cost and number of privately paid trips by lawmakers has been less than half of what it was in 2005.
Such travel was scrutinized after news surfaced about lavish golf trips in Scotland arranged by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty this year in a congressional corruption probe. No one alleges Kolbe's travel is related to any of the scandals. But Kolbe took far more trips than others in the Arizona delegation. The 22-year veteran of the House ranks 39th in number of trips on PoliticalMoneyLine's list of lawmakers' privately funded travel, which covers 2000 to the present. In another ranking, only two other members of Congress took more government-paid trips between 1994 and 2006, according to the group.
Other Arizona lawmakers traveled courtesy of private groups this year. Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Ariz., who ranks 59th on the list of privately funded trips, went to Hawaii and Jamaica. Republican Reps. John Shadegg (ranked 158th) and Jeff Flake (163rd) both went to conferences in Baltimore and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., respectively.
GOP Rep. J.D. Hayworth (ranked 366th), went to Raleigh, N.C., in April, to keynote the North Carolina Conservative Leadership Conference. Demo-cratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva (408th) visited Orlando, Fla., at the end of June to receive the National Education Association César Chávez Human Rights Award.
Republican Sen. John McCain (521st) traveled to New York in October to be honored by the Sergeants Benevolent Association.

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