Video: DeLay's overseas travel questioned

By Chip Reid Correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/9/2005 8:51:07 PM ET 2005-05-10T00:51:07

An ethics investigation of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, would likely focus on his overseas travel to Russia, South Korea and a 10-day trip to England and Scotland five years ago that included golf at the fabled St. Andrews course.

But DeLay says he understood it was all paid for by private think tanks and non-profit organizations. If so, it's all perfectly legal and it's also very common.

"Many, many members of Congress do this," says Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Georgia. "In fact, the people who have used it the most, the top 11 members, are all Democrats."

The non-partisan Web site Political Money Line says that in the past five years hundreds of members of Congress have taken a total of 5,649 so-called educational trips, paid for by private organizations — more than 1,200 of those overseas.

While many trips were to work-intensive destinations like Pakistan, Syria and Sudan, there were also 22 trips to the Bahamas, 25 to Jamaica, 51 to France and 80 to Puerto Rico.

So long as a lobbyist didn't foot the bill it's legal, but congressional watchdogs say that doesn't make it right.

"Outside groups are spending money to benefit members of Congress in vacation-type trips and they're currying favor and getting influence in return," says Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21.

Wertheimer says DeLay may have gone even further, citing reports that a lobbyist under federal investigation used his own credit card to pay for some of DeLay's travel.

"It certainly appears that House Majority Leader DeLay has pushed the envelope and may well have pushed it beyond the rules here," he says.

But DeLay's defenders say there was no way for him to know who ultimately paid for the trips and they cite recent reports that some Democrats have done exactly the same thing.

"There seems to be a double standard here," says Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan. "When it happens to a Democrat it's a mistake. When it happens to a Republican it's an investigation.”

DeLay's defenders also note that, according to Political Money Line, he ranked 29th on the amount of money spent on privately funded travel and only 121st on the number of trips.

Some Republicans say that any Ethics Committee investigation of DeLay should be broadened to include some Democrats, hoping to show that whatever DeLay has done, Democrats have done it too.

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