Sen. Durbin discloses travels to Hawaii, Italy

By DORI MEINERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - In January 2004, Sen. Dick Durbin and his wife spent six days in Honolulu at the expense of the privately funded Aspen Institute think tank where he attended a conference on U.S.-China relations.

Durbin and his wife, Loretta, also traveled to Venice, Italy, where they spent 14 days in August 2004 for a conference on U.S.-Russia relations, also paid for by the Aspen Institute.

The Illinois Democrat also visited South Africa on the tab of other private groups last year, according to his personal financial disclosure statement released Tuesday. Durbin also traveled to India and Bangladesh in February 2004 in a trip that was mistakenly left off the report, his staff said. He planned to file an amendment later Tuesday.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., requested a 30-day extension on his filing deadline.

While such privately funded trips are legal, members of Congress have found their free travel increasingly criticized in light of the recent controversy surrounding trips by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay that allegedly were paid for by lobbyists.

Durbin favors trips by the nonpartisan public policy group, Aspen Institute, because each trip has an in-depth focus and lawmakers can concentrate on issues without being lobbied, Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker said.

"These trips have enriched my understanding of key issues and made me a more engaged legislator," said Durbin in a statement issued by his office. "Were it not for travel, I probably would have an interest in these things, but not a passion for them."

It's an added bonus if his wife is allowed to travel with him.

"I've spent 23 years in this business, and my wife has paid a price for that. If I get a chance at someone else's expense and not the government's, to take her with me, I jump at it," Durbin said.

Durbin's five-day trip to Capetown, South Africa, was paid for by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and the South African Institute of International Affairs. He reported that the groups paid his airfare, lodging and meals. However, on Tuesday, his spokesman said the airfare actually was paid by the federal government because Durbin traveled to South Africa with a congressional group and then split off for the international affairs conference in Capetown.

The trip to India and Bangladesh from Feb. 13 to Feb. 21, 2004, was paid for by the nonprofit group, Results, which seeks to end hunger in the United States and abroad. Durbin was accompanied by his Illinois chief of staff, Mike Daly, Shoemaker said.

The trip to Africa was helpful to his efforts to increase funding for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, his aide said.

The senators' personal financial disclosure reports also gives the public a look at their personal lives. Senators received $158,100 in annual salary in 2004. Durbin reported his wife received $59,500 as a lobbyist in Springfield.

Durbin goes beyond the requirements to report exact values for assets and liabilities and included his wife's IRAs and other holdings.

Among his assets are his longtime family home in Springfield valued at $315,000 and a Chicago condo valued at $295,000. He and his wife together have stock, retirement and credit union accounts valued at $633,473. His liabilities include a $69,288 mortgage on the Springfield home, a $211,215 mortgage on the Chicago condo and a car loan ranging from $15,001 to $50,000.