A Center for Public Integrity report on all-expense-paid trips by members of Congress shows that Cong. Nancy Johnson (R-5) topped Connecticut's Congressional delegation in taking trips paid for by special interest groups.
The Danbury News-Times' Fred Lucas reported that Connecticut members of Congress took advantage of $600,000 for 300 trips between 2000 and 2005.
Rep. Johnson accounted for one-third of interest group expenditures or $200,000 for 51 trips "on someone else's dime." The runner up was incumbent U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman whose office received $119,000 for Lieberman and his staff in the five year period.
Johnson's journeys came to light in 2005 with the news that The Nature Conservancy (TNC) paid $17,900 for Johnson and her husband to visit Quito, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands . The trip was made, according to its backers and Rep. Johnson, to learn about the nature conservancy's natural resource and biodiversity conservation work in Ecuador and "to discuss with Ecuador's government officials the effects of illegal immigration in Connecticut."
Backers of free trips for Johnson included insurance and pharmaceutical industry groups which underwrote trips to conferences for Johnson and her staff to Orlando, Boca Raton, Tampa and Las Vegas. A spokesman for the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan research and watchdog group, said that the business trips of members of Congress tend to be to vacation spots and rarely to "undesirable locations."
Johnson is an architect of the controversial Medicare prescription drug program that provides millions in subsidies to pharmaceutical and insurance interests. Critics of the Medicare drug plan, who cite arbitrary and insufficient coverage for many seniors, believe Rep. Johnson has a conflict in accepting travel perks from some of the interest groups in her position as Chair of a Congressional sub-committee on health care that developed the prescription drug law.
Democratic Congressional Nominee Chris Murphy (D-Cheshire) told the News-Times that he supports a ban on the subsidized trips for members of Congress and their spouses, stating that acceptance of such gifts from special interests are an example of "what is wrong with Washington." House Democrats are seeking support for stricter bans on perks and gifts from lobbyists and special interest groups.
More information is available at www.publicintegrity.org