Lawmakers’ travel ban could hurt Hawaii
Leading Republicans in Congress are proposing a ban on members' travel paid for by private groups.
MEMBERS of Congress are overreacting to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal in ways that could strike a blow to business and professional organizations planning conventions or other events in Hawaii. Republican leaders are proposing a ban on all members' travel paid for by private groups.
The proposal is being offered by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and by Senate Republicans John McCain of Arizona and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Congressional Democrats are countering with a proposed ban on all travel paid for by lobbyists.
National business groups and organizations such as the American Bar Association and the American Medical Association often invite members of Congress to speak at their conventions and pay for travel expenses. A ban on picking up the tab could discourage their choice of Hawaii as a meeting site.
The proposals were prompted by Abramoff's guilty plea this month to federal fraud and conspiracy charges. Abramoff arranged for trips by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, former chairman of the House Administration Committee, to the St. Andrews golf resort in Scotland.
When political talk turns to junkets, Hawaii usually is the first "exotic" destination cited. Members of Congress are cognizant of the stigma and already are hesitant in accepting such engagements.
The ban also would harm legitimate nonpartisan organizations such as the Aspen Institute, which sponsors seminars, conferences and forums on public issues and does no lobbying. Former Sen. Dick Clark, the Colorado institute's president, told the Los Angeles Times that its conferences include trips to Istanbul and Hawaii for scholars and lawmakers.
Reforms are needed to assure ethical conduct in Congress, but banning all travel payments would, as Clark says, "throw the baby out with the bath water."
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