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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Binge in Brussels

Binge in Brussels
I would like to correct my earlier figure stating that Rep. Alcee Hastings and Vanessa Griddine spent about $18,000 in Belgium on their September 11-14, 2004 trip. The acutal figure according to the Congressional Record for November 16, 2004, is $14,193.44. $2972.00 of this was spent on diem for the lucky couple and a further 11,401.44 was spent on what must have been a marvelous flight across the pond.

So, my apologies for being off the mark. While we're on the subject of travel, however, we might as well make sure all the details are straight. It is after all one of the issues that Mr. Delay is taking a lot of heat right now, and Alcee Hastings is very concerned that the Ethics Committee has not taken Mr. Tom Delay's case more seriously.

You see, Alcee Hastings is a bit of an expert in the Congressional travel department, ranking number two in the House for spending a healthy $152,378 dollars over the past decade ( Political Money Line ).

In fact, Alcee Hastings has been basking in the warmth of a little unwelcome publicity over this issue as we see in this April 2, 2004 article from the Miami Herald...

One of the top five world travelers in the past decade was our own Congressman Alcee Hastings, says PoliticalMoneyLine, a Washington-based website. The Miramar Democrat spent $152,378 in taxpayer money on 57 trips to 116 countries. (The dollar figure doesn't include costs for staff or use of military aircraft.)

Alcee Hastings and Wexler -- members of the minority party in Congress who don't serve as committee chairman -- spent even more tax dollars on foreign travel than International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde and former Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss, who was appointed CIA director last year.

But staff for Alcee Hastings and Wexler argue that their trips were worthwhile and in the public's interest.

''He's not going to garden spots,'' Alcee Hastings spokesman Fred Turner said. ``He is flying back today from a trip to the Middle East that included Baghdad, Beirut and Damascus. . . . I don't think anybody thinks going to those places constitutes a taxpayer-funded vacation.''

A more scenic trip to Brussels also had a grave purpose: to attend an international conference on racism sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Alcee Hastings' most expensive journey: an $11,751 trip to Scotland in 2004, when he was elected president of the organization's parliamentary assembly.

''You can't get that kind of experience or expertise in Washington,'' Fred Turner said.

Voters expect a certain amount of travel by Congress, which regulates foreign trade and decides when we go to war. Lower on the political food chain, worldwide trips are harder to defend.

Beth Reinhard is the Herald's political writer. Call her at 954-527-8419.

Maybe Mr. Alcee Hastings isn't going only to garden spots, as his underpaid Chief of Staff Fred Turner notes, but a quick look at the list ( Political Money Line ) shows that 35 out of his 58 trips were to Western Europe and others included such backwaters as Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.

One might also observe that even though the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) has paid for all all of his previous Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) travel they didn't want to foot the bill for this conference in Brussels. Perhaps that's b/c Mr. Alcee Hastings wanted to spend the weekend of the 11-12th in Brussels before the two day conference . It's difficult for anyone to spend $2792 dollars in two days, even for this lovely couple. So, they did the responsible thing and got a head start.

I hope he brought you some chocolates Patricia....


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