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CONGRESSIONAL FELLOW TRAVELERS

It is no excuse to say "everybody does it" if what everybody is doing is unlawful, but in the case of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who has been singled out by Democrats for criticism because of trips he has taken that were, in some cases, apparently paid at least in part by lobbyists, the party that's pointing a finger at Delay ought to look at all of those fingers pointing back at Democrats.

A study by PoliticalMoneyLine (www.politicalmoneyline.com) has found that during the last five years and out of the $16 million in congressional travel paid for by private funds, more than half (almost $8.8 million) came from tax-exempt organizations that receive funds from others. One of the raps on DeLay is that some of his trips, including one to Russia in 1997, were reportedly underwritten by lobbyists, but through a nonprofit organization. DeLay has said he had no knowledge of lobbyists funding such trips, which might have violated House ethics rules.

According to the study by PoliticalMoneyLine, many of the organizations paying for congressional travel are tax-exempt entities and are not required to disclose their donors. The study found that during the five-year period surveyed, House and Senate Democrats took more trips (5,410) than Republicans (2,375).

All together, 605 members of both houses took trips, with Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, the No. 1 traveler, taking 19 trips valued at $168,000. By contrast, DeLay was 28th on the list with 14 trips valued at $94,568. Rep. Harold Ford Ford can claim the prize for most trips (63), but Ford's less expensive domestic travel totaled just $61,000.

The top two organizations that paid for congressional travel, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, were the Aspen Institute ($2,897,602) and the Ripon Society ($694,042), both ideologically liberal organizations.

After Sensenbrenner, the next four members spending the most on travel were Democrats: Gene Green of Texas, John Breaux of Louisiana, Robert Wexler of Florida and Maurice Hinchey of New York. No Democrat has raised questions about any of these because their target is DeLay, probably the most effective majority leader since the days when Democrats used to rule. DeLay resists and often thwarts the Democrats' agenda. Since he continues to win re-election, Democrats are trying to take him down using their scandal machine.

There's plenty more in the report that bears investigation if Democrats are serious about exposing ethically questionable travel. Over 127 travel reports filed by members listed no destinations. Twenty reports listed no trip sponsor. One hundred and six reports listed no cost figures, Fifty-one reports showed no purpose for the travel.

No wonder some members, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have rushed to file amended reports. An aide acknowledged that Pelosi had not reported a 2004 trip to South Korea, until a Washington Post reporter inquired about it. The aide, said the Post, filed a full disclosure form "a few hours after the newspaper's inquiry" and sent a note to the ethics committee that said, "I did not know I was supposed to file these forms and I apologize for its lateness."

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that House Republicans have decided to rescind a rules change they pushed through in January that led to the shutdown of the ethics committee, possibly clearing the way for consideration of charges against DeLay and others. The House Ethics Committee has not been operating because Democrats would not allow it to meet following the rules change that required an ethics complaint be dismissed if the evenly divided panel deadlocked. We'll now see if Democrats are as enthusiastic about maintaining an ethical standard when some of their own are questioned along with Tom DeLay.