JW Calls on House and Senate Ethics Committees to Investigate Rampant Abuse of Foreign Travel Expenses and Per Diems
Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it has filed an official complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee regarding reported widespread abuse of foreign travel expenses and per diems by Members of Congress. Judicial Watch 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.”
In both letters of complaint sent on March 31, Judicial Watch references a March 2, 2010, Wall Street Journal article documenting the per diem abuses by Members of Congress:
Congress has no system for tracking how the cash payments, called per diems, are being spent. Lawmakers aren't required to keep receipts and there are no public records. In the past two years, hundreds of lawmakers spent a total of 5,300 days visiting 130 foreign countries on taxpayer-funded trips, according to congressional travel records.
With regard to how Members of Congress may have misappropriated the funds, according to the article: “Sometimes they give it away; sometimes they pocket it. Many lawmakers said they didn't know the rules for 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.”
As Judicial Watch argued in its letters of complaint, such behavior is seemingly in violation of explicit House and Senate rules governing the reimbursement of foreign travel expenses. 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.”
“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. It is a federal criminal offense to convert public money for personal use.
“Members of Congress are stealing from taxpayers when they pocket ‘unused’ travel per diems from congressional junkets,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “No wonder the latest Gallup poll has Congress with a 16% approval rating. This travel expense scandal is a serious matter that merits immediate investigation by the House and Senate.”