Pennsylvania lawmakers take more free, legal trips

| Sunday, July 20, 2014, 10:39 p.m.

U.S. House members from Pennsylvania and their staffs accepted 41 privately paid trips this year, ranging from $20,000 in business-class airline tickets to Japan for Rep. Charlie Dent and his wife to $300-a-night hotel rooms for congressional staff at a Las Vegas casino resort.

The Associated Press reviewed gift and travel records on the House clerk's website. The House Ethics Committee this month quietly eliminated a Watergate-era requirement that lawmakers reveal trips on personal financial forms, reasoning that fuller data are kept on file with the clerk. The requirement was reinstated because watchdog groups complained.

House members must get committee approval before the trip and file detailed information within 15 days of returning.

The increase in privately funded travel by members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation, from 17 in 2008 to 47 in 2013, tracks a steady increase in the House as a whole, from 1,012 in 2008 to 1,685 last year.

The current travel rules were put in place in 2007 upon the conviction of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who showered lawmakers and their staffs with favors.

“The era of potential big-money influence is back,” said Craig Holman of Public Citizen, who advises Congress and states on campaign finance laws.

Among other members of the delegation, Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, took four trips valued at $16,123, including a visit last month with his wife to Poland costing $12,506.

Rep. Tom Marino, R-Lycoming, and Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, sent staff members to the Consumer Electronics Association trade show in Las Vegas in January. They stayed near the trade show at the Wynn casino resort, where a room cost more than $300 per night.

In 2013, Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, accepted a trip to the Club for Growth's winter conference on fiscal conservatism, which included $450-per-night rooms at The Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Fla.

A spokesman for Rothfus, Edward Yap, said the congressman's trips were approved by the ethics committee.

In the Senate, where ethics rules are generally the same, Sen. Pat Toomey's office took 14 trips in 2013 and 2014 worth about $12,000 while Bob Casey's office took two. Two of the trips were taken by Toomey himself — one to the Club for Growth conference in Palm Beach in 2013 at a cost of $1,819, and the other a trip that he and wife took to Sea Island, Ga., this year paid for by the American Enterprise Institute, valued at $1,327. Both of Casey's trips were taken by his staff to Philadelphia and Warrenton, Va., at a cost of $1,100.

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