HOUSTON -- A Texas Tribune investigation has sifted through hundreds of Congressional records to reveal where Texas lawmakers are traveling, and who is paying for it.
Topping the list of frequent flyers is U.S. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Houston), who records show took 14 trips in the last two years that were paid for by private groups. Ethics rules bar lawmakers from taking trips paid for by lobbyists, and because these trips were paid for by foundations, they appear to be within the rules.
Still, the Tribune reporter who found the records said it took weeks of sifting though arcane reports to connect the dots. "It raises a question of transparency," said Texas Tribune reporter Andrew Kreighbaum. "Even two years after major ethics reform, we still don't exactly know who is paying for all of these trips or why they are being taken."
"For a reporter it takes hours and days to go through and compile all this," he said. "It's something an average person wouldn't have time for."
Records show that although Poe took the most trips, private groups spent the most money on travel for U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin) and U.S. Rep. Gene Green (D-Houston), at approximately $25,000 each in the last two years. Groups spent $18,938 on travel for U.S. Rep. Pete Olson (R-Sugar Land) and his staff, and $15,709 for Poe.
The conservative Congressional Institute and Heritage Foundation funded the most trips, at 34 and 32, respectively. Both are based in Maryland, which explains why it was the most-traveled-to state among members of the Texas delegation. Records show that Texas lawmakers and their staff made 25 foundation funded trips to Baltimore, and 13 to Cambridge, Maryland, in the last two years.
The next most common destination was Istanbul, Turkey, records show. Lawmakers also made five trips to Tel Aviv, Israel, which were funded by the "American Israel Education Foundation."
Kreighbaum said travel records generally do not indicate the purpose of a privately funded trip. U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-The Woodlands) told the Tribune that his October, 2008 trip funded by the Anadarko Petroleum Corp. was designed to help him understand the benefits of offshore drilling.
"I don't know if that trip convinced Speaker Pelosi not to bring a bill to the floor," he said, "but it helped us go back and talk to Congress about what exploration really is, rather than myths."
Other lawmakers took trips funded by groups that do not always reveal the trip's purpose. Groups such as "The Humpty Dumpty Institute," the "Alliance for Health Reform," and "North Carolina Governor's Crime Commission" also paid for Texas lawmaker travel, records show.