CONGRESSIONAL TRAVEL...FACT-FINDING OR FREE VACATION?
HIDDEN CAMERA INVESTIGATION FOLLOWS CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION TO THE EXOTIC GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
"If members of Congress want to go on vacation they should do it with their own money instead of the taxpayers,"
Tom Schatz, Citizens Against Government Waste
Airdate: Monday, October 13th, 2008
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New York, NY - October 10th, 2008 - An investigation by INSIDE EDITION has uncovered millions of taxpayers dollars being spent on questionable trips by members of congress, many of which include stays in exotic vacation spots around the world.
The trips known as CODELs, or Congressional Delegations, are billed as "fact finding" missions. Members of congress are not required to disclose the purpose, results, and true cost of these trips to the public.
"When it comes to congressional trips, the lack of accountability is appalling, says Tom Schatz, of the watchdog group, Citizens Against Government Waste.
In the first of a series of reports, Senior Investigative Correspondent Matt Meagher and a producer, posing as tourists, tagged along with hidden cameras on a trip taken by a bipartisan group of congressmen to the Galapagos Islands in June. The group said the trip to the exotic locale was necessary to study the islands' unique species and environment, which they claimed would enable them to better understand the earth's changing climate.
Five U.S. Representatives from the Committee on Science and Technology flew from Andrews Air Force Base in Virgina on a $70 million luxury military jet - stocked at the request of the congressmen with food, wine and beer - to Guayquil, Ecuador, then on to the Galapagos Islands. Five congressional aides and several military escorts also accompanied them.
Three of the congressmen even brought their wives, including Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.). Rep. Darlene Hooley (D-Ore.) brought her adult daughter. Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) was the only member who did not bring a guest. House rules allow members to bring a spouse or an adult child on a space available basis.
The group stayed in suites at the Red Mangrove Aventura Lodge, where they were treated like royalty at one of the most expensive resorts on the islands. According to records from the House Office of the Clerk reviewed by INSIDE EDITION, the tab for food and lodging alone cost more than $13,000. Another $8,800 of expenses are listed on the records under "transportation" and "other." The Committee provided no additional explanation of those expenses when asked by INSIDE EDITION. It took the group more than 16 hours to fly to the Galapagos and back on the Air Force luxury jet, which costs tens of thousands of dollars per flight hour.
"This is business as usual," says Schatz, who tells INSIDE EDITION it is often important for congressmen to visit foreign countries, but some just blatantly abuse the privilege.
"If they want to take a vacation they should do it on their own time, on their own money, not the taxpayer's money," Schatz tells INSIDE EDITION.
The delegation did listen to lectures at the Charles Darwin Research Center and toured the Galapagos National Park for a close-up look at the famed giant tortoises and other exotic species.
Representative Baird, who led the trip, justified the visit by citing Galapagos as being home to an important U.S. funded tsunami warning center. However, INSIDE EDITION found there is no such center in the Galapagos Islands, according to officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The only thing in the islands related to a tsunami warning center is a small tide sensor.
Representative Baird also said the Committee needed to check on important climate research being conducted on the islands. However, INSIDE EDITION learned that the scientists working on the research actually had to be flown to the islands months ahead of schedule. The scientists were flown in from The University of Washington, which is located in Representative Baird's home state. The group of scientists put on a demonstration for the delegation and took them snorkeling in some of the most spectacular waters in the world.
INSIDE EDITION hidden cameras also captured them taking full advantage of this exotic locale, enjoying fine wine and sushi dinners, bicycling, shopping and picture-taking.
INSIDE EDITION wondered why one of the members of the delegation had to do any fact-finding in the first place. Congresswoman Hooley had resigned from the Committee on Science and Technology before they left for the Galapagos, and is not even running for re-election.
"It seems it was a farewell package for Representative Hooley and her daughter...at the tax payer's expense," Schatz tells INSIDE EDITION.
INSIDE EDITION caught up with Representative Baird as he prepared to head home.
IE: "Is it necessary that all of these people had to come?"
Baird: "I'll tell you what happens. You see things in different ways. You share ideas...When you see them with your own eyes, it matters. Did we enjoy our visit here? Absolutely."
IE: "It looks like you enjoyed quite a bit?"
Baird: "Well, should we have had a miserable time? No. Are we grateful for the opportunity? Absolutely."
The only other member of the delegation that responded directly to INSIDE EDITION's questions was Representative Inglis, who defended the trips saying that traveling outside the United States gives them the perspective they need to legislate effectively.
INSIDE EDITION is produced daily at the CBS Broadcast Center in New York City and produced and distributed by CBS Television Distribution, a unit of CBS Corp.