Campaign 2010

Jun 28, 2006

Vacation Station: For Fossella, Pombo, Sweeney and Others, Congress is the New Launch Pad for Free V

DCCC Press

Jun 28, 2006

Vacation Station: For Fossella, Pombo, Sweeney and Others, Congress is the New Launch Pad for Free Vacations

Republican Members of Congress Lavish Themselves and Their Families With Free Trips While Taxpayers and Campaign Supporters Get Stuck with the Bill

(Washington, D.C.) – Lately Republicans in Congress have been spending a lot of time on special interest-funded and even taxpayer-funded vacations. According to recent news reports, three Republican members of Congress who have taken trips with someone else picking up the bill and that list will likely grow. To the dismay of New Yorkers, Vito Fossella is the latest addition to a list that includes Richard Pombo (R-CA) and John Sweeney (R-NY) to name a few. Vito Fossella and others like to say the lavish travel “helps them do their jobs better,” but the families they represent deserve to know exactly what goes on during the multi-thousand dollar vacations.

Vito Fossella has come under fire recently for trips he has taken reportedly to raise money, do research or even spend time with his family. According to news reports, however, Fossella’s trips are not all “family oriented,” as he says, nor do they help him represent Staten Island. The trips include outings to Vail, Turnberry Isle, and even the fancy Bellagio in Las Vegas.

Reports show that on at least one occasion, Fossella sponsored a bill that benefited his campaign benefactors. Last December, Fossella sponsored a bill that was drafted by a group that has an interest in Wall Street policy. Fossella has taken $65,000 in campaign contributions from Wall Street bankers since being elected to Congress in 1997.

Fossella is not alone. Congressman Richard Pombo took his family on a $4,935 RV trip to national parks across the country. While he claims that this trip was “the cheapest way possible to get in and actually look at these parks” and was “not a personal trip,” not only did his family accompany him on this trip, but park officials do not remember meeting with him. One park spokesman said: “I was working in the park then and can’t confirm that a meeting like that ever took place. I generally remember the congressmen that come here.”

Congressman Sweeney is no stranger to special interest-funded vacations. News reports say that two New York State Assembly committees are investigating his ski trip with lobbyists earlier this year. Investigators will look at whether the New York Power Authority gave $25,000 to sponsor the event. Several Sweeney staffers joined lobbyists and even another member of Congress on the trip known as the “2006 Congressional Winter Challenge at Lake Placid.” A public hearing is scheduled for July 6.

“Instead of jetting off to posh resorts on someone else’s dime, Vito Fossella and his buddies should be focused on their jobs and taking care of the families they represent. Congress’ perennial inattentiveness and misplaced priorities are exactly why voters in New York and across the country are looking for a new direction,” said Bill Burton, communications director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “It is time to change the priorities in Washington. This November, voters are going to reject the special interest junkets and taxpayer funded vacations.”

Fossella Defends his Trips: “I'm not ashamed of it.”[Staten Island Advance, 6/26/06]

Fossella Says his Trips Were “Family Oriented”: “He compared the trips to private-sector business conferences, adding that some of the events, like the Vail trips, are family-oriented.” [Staten Island Advance, 6/26/06]

Fossella Under Fire for Lavish Trips, Some Included Family. According to the Staten Island Advance, some of Fossella’s trips “include annual fund-raising outings with his family to The Lodge at Vail, a pricey ski resort in Colorado; a $5,683 trip to Turnberry Isle, Fla. for a national Republican fund-raiser in 2003, and a $1,318 trip in 2005 to the Bellagio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.” Fossella also faced questions for sponsoring a bill in Congress after accepting a trip paid for by those with interests contained in the legislation. Fossella’s campaign has even had to correct disclosure reports after he initially charged his campaign for ski lessons. [Staten Island Advance, 6/26/06]

Pombo Says his was a Family Vacation: “This August, my family and I rented an RV and set out to explore the West. We spent two weeks on vacation, stopping along the way to enjoy the splendor of many of our national parks.” [AP, 2/10/06]

Then Pombo Says it was a Business Trip: “Pombo, said the $4,935 cost of renting the RV was a legitimate expense because the purpose of the trip was to meet with park personnel and learn about park issues he oversees as chairman of the committee.” [AP, 2/10/06]

The Truth? Richard Pombo Took a $4,935.87 Family Vacation at Taxpayer Expense: Rep. Richard Pombo defended Thursday his use of taxpayer money to ferry his family on “vacation” to several national parks in the West, saying he used the trip to conduct official business at the parks, which he oversees as chairman of the House Resources Committee. [Tracy Press, 2/10/06].

Sweeney Spokesperson Deflects Criticism of $25,000 Ski Vacation: “This event is not about lobbyists or what staffers were there.” [Glen Falls Post Star, 3/30/06]

NY Assembly Investigating Sweeney’s Special Interest Ski Trip. According to the Associated Press, two New York State Assembly committees are looking into John Sweeney’s ski trip known as the 2006 Congressional Winter Challenge at Lake Placid. The AP reports that a the investigation will focus on whether New York Power Authority sent $25,000 to the Olympic Regional Development Authority in Lake Placid to sponsor the event that included Sweeney, another member of Congress, several staffers, lobbyists and New York Power Authority officials and guests attended. The two committees investigating the trip are the corporations and authorities committee, and the Energy Committee. The chairmen of those committees will hold a public hearing on July 6. [Associated Press, 6/22/06]