April 9, 2010
From the Desk of Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton:
JW Targets Rampant Congressional Travel Per Diem Abuse with Ethics Complaints
Members of Congress call it “standard policy.” I call it “stealing.”
What I’m referring to is the practice by many Members of Congress to pocket unused taxpayer funded travel per diems for their own personal use. The Wall Street Journal detailed the scandal in a story on March 2:
When lawmakers travel overseas on official business they are given up to $250 a day in taxpayer funds to cover meals and expenses. Congressional rules say they must return any leftover cash to the government.
They usually don’t.
According to interviews with 20 current and former members of Congress, lawmakers use the excess cash for shopping or to defray spouses’ travel expenses. Sometimes they give it away; sometimes they pocket it. Many lawmakers said they didn’t know the rules demand repayment.
Former Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), The Wall Street Journal notes, admitted that it’s “fairly standard” policy for lawmakers to use the leftover money “for shopping or to buy souvenirs to bring back to constituents.”
In other words, Members of Congress are using your tax dollars to go window shopping during congressional junkets.
To fully understand the depth of the problem, we would need to take a look at congressional records related to per diem use. The problem is there are none. Congress doesn’t have a system in place to track per diems, and lawmakers aren’t even required to keep receipts.
And as the Journal noted, in just the past two years, hundreds of lawmakers spent a total of 5,300 days visiting 130 foreign countries on taxpayer-funded trips. So we’re not talking about chump change.
I don’t know about you, but I cannot imagine a more clear-cut example of the abuse of power than for Member of Congress to steal from the taxpayers and line their own pockets. (In fact, it may be a federal crime.) And for this reason, Judicial Watch filed an official complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee this week related to the per diem scandal. We also sent a letter to the House’s Office of Congressional Ethics requesting “a full investigation and audit of House foreign travel expenditures and the pocketing of unused per diems.”
As Judicial Watch argued in its letters of complaint, House and Senate rules governing the reimbursement of foreign travel expenses are explicit. For example, according to Senate rules: “A per diem allowance provided a Member, officer, or employee in connection with foreign travel shall be used solely for lodging, food, and related expenses and it is the responsibility of the Member, officer, or employee receiving such an allowance to return to the United States Government that portion of the allowance received which is not actually used for necessary lodging, food, and related expenses.” [Emphasis added].
- Labor Dept. Helps Illegal Alien Workers
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- Feds Probe University’s Device To Help Illegal Border Crossers
- Another South Florida Politician Headed To Jail
- Islamic Radical Tours U.S. Thanks To Clinton Order
- Penn. Senator Criminally Charged
- School Board Member Chastised Over “Anchor Babies”
“In the least, there is evidence of a general misunderstanding among lawmakers that unused per diems may be converted for personal use. At worst, members may be illegally pocketing taxpayer funds,” Judicial Watch stated in its letters of complaint.
And Members of Congress wonder why they’re stuck with a 16% approval rating.
This travel expense scandal is serious. If you’re as angered by it as I am, then take a moment to call to the House and Senate Ethics Committees and tell them you want lawmakers who steal from the public coffers to be held accountable. Here are the numbers:
House Office of Congressional Ethics: 202-225-9739.
House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct: 202-225-7103.
U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics: 202-224-2981.
Judicial Watch Supports Maryland Bill to Beef Up Illegal Alien Law Enforcement
If you’ve read the Weekly Update for any length of time, you’ve heard me sing the praises of a federal illegal immigration law enforcement training program called 287(g), which allows local law enforcement officers to learn skills to combat illegal immigration crime. I’m not alone. Even the Obama administration, which is often hostile to enforcing our nation’s immigration laws, acknowledges that 287(g) is a “successful and popular partnership initiative.”
More than 1,075 local law enforcement officers have been trained in the program. And since January 2006, 287(g) has been credited with identifying more than 130,000 potentially deportable illegal aliens, mostly in local jails.
You can take a look at some specific success stories here.
However, despite the effectiveness of 287(g), some states have been slow to embrace the program, including one state in Judicial Watch’s own backyard — Maryland. To date, the Frederick County Sheriff Department is the only law enforcement agency in Maryland to take advantage of the program. A few other counties cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), with Ocean City’s police department actually sharing its headquarters with ICE agents.
But new legislation aims to change the situation for the better. Maryland House Bill 866 would require law enforcement agencies in Maryland to participate in the 287(g) program. As you know, Judicial Watch is leading a nationwide campaign to enforce our nation’s immigration laws. And I think it’s fair to say that we have had something to do with the increased popularity of 287(g), as it has been a major component of our public education campaign.
And so, I recently sent a letter to the bill’s chief sponsor, Maryland Delegate Patrick McDonough, to express Judicial Watch’s support for his efforts and to offer our assistance.
According to my letter, sent on March 23, 2010:
The 287(g) program would give Maryland law enforcement personnel more tools to protect the public from violent criminals who are also illegal aliens. The program would also give better guidance to Maryland law enforcement officers as to the role they can play in helping enforce our nation’s immigration laws.
The benefits to public safety would greatly outweigh any costs to Maryland law enforcement agencies. There have simply been too many examples of illegal alien criminals being apprehended and let loose by Maryland law enforcement agencies because of non-cooperation with ICE. These non-cooperation/sanctuary policies have demonstrably harmed the safety of law-abiding Maryland residents — both legal and illegal…
…Thank you for your leadership on this issue. Judicial Watch is available to assist you or your colleagues with any additional information you need about the 287(g) program.
This effort by the state legislature in Maryland to establish 287(g) partnerships stands in stark contrast to efforts at the federal level to undermine the program. Just last month, Janet Napolitano’s Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (OIG) published its “analysis” of 287(g). The report notes the effectiveness of the program, but rather than calling for its expansion, the OIG recommends stricter management and oversight. (In bureaucrat-speak, this means more red tape and less immigration enforcement.)
Take a look at the report’s recommendations and you’ll see the majority have to do with making it more difficult to participate as a partner in the program and less to do with expanding and improving what has been a very effective program in enforcing immigration laws.
(By the way, these new control measures are another thinly veiled attempt to target the Obama administration’s favorite bogeyman, “America’s Toughest Sherriff,” Joe Arpaio, who continues to hold the hard line against illegal alien criminals.)
And then there’s this Washington Post story noting that illegal immigration deportations are down because Obama and Napolitano are practicing a brand of “selective amnesty” by only deporting violent illegal alien criminals, while allowing others who are here illegally to stay in the country unimpeded.
There is no question in my mind we need a more robust 287(g) program. And most Americans agree. According to a poll we commissioned with SurveyUSA in December, 61% of likely voters thought local law enforcement officers should do more to enforce federal immigration laws. Let’s hope Maryland passes HB 866 and that other state governments follow suit.
IRS to Target Tax Refunds for Health Insurance Penalties
So what would happen if you were to refuse to purchase “Beltway-approved” health insurance as mandated by Obamacare? IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman stated during a press conference this week that “violators” could lose their tax refunds. According to Reuter’s:
The Internal Revenue Service could tap individual tax returns to collect fines against people who fail to buy health insurance as required under recently enacted healthcare legislation, the U.S. tax commissioner said on Monday.
Most individuals are required to get health insurance under the new law, or face penalties that would be phased in over time. By 2016, people without coverage could see fines of 2 percent of their income…
…People who do not comply would be levied penalties, and if they don’t pay them the penalties could be taken out of their tax refunds.
“Our role is going to be straightforward,” Schulman said.
Oh, I don’t doubt that. The IRS is nothing if not straightforward. Pay up, or else. It’s a pretty basic relationship.
The article does note that the IRS will not have some of its other favorite tools to enforce Obamacare. Say, for example, seizing assets. But this is a distinction without a difference. The government may not consider a tax refund an “asset,” but most Americans do. A tax refund belongs to the taxpayer, not the government. And the government has no business putting its hands on something that does not belong to it. So much for the rule of law.
(By the way, in order to enforce the Obamacare mandates some congressional estimates suggest the IRS will need $10 billion and as many as 16,500 more IRS agents. According to press reports, this would represent the greatest expansion of the IRS since World War II.)
And here’s something else I found both interesting and disturbing in the Reuter’s piece:
Shulman, appointed by former President George W. Bush and retained by Obama, said the U.S. health department and insurance companies would determine if individuals have purchased acceptable levels of coverage.
“There are not going to be IRS agents having discussions with the American people about the intimate details of their health insurance,” Shulman said.
No, instead we’ll be having these intimate conversations with some bureaucrat in Kathleen Sebelius’s Department of Health and Human Services. That’s right, under Obamacare, every U.S. citizen now answers to a cabinet official for their health insurance decisions.
This is the same Kathleen Sebelius’s whose office is stonewalling us for basic documents regarding her behind-the-scenes dealings for the Obamacare push.
Between the latest power grab by the IRS and the stonewalling shenanigans at HHS, Americans have good reason to worry about how Obamacare is going to operate and whether its bureaucrat-enforcers will be accountable to the law. You can be sure that your Judicial Watch will stand vigilant for you in the coming battles over Obamacare.
Until next week…
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