January 8, 2007
DANA WILKIE LETTER FROM WASHINGTON
Freebies take a holiday
Amazing what a little investigation can
do: After the Center for Public Integrity last year
reported that privately funded travel for members of
Congress was booming, travel has dropped off
The center, a nonpartisan government watchdog, found
that during a one-year span ending June 30, 2005,
corporations, trade groups and nonprofit organizations
spent more than $10.3 million to send lawmakers and their
staffers on about 4,700 trips.
During the most recent one-year period ending June 30,
such spending had dropped by about half, to $5.4 million
spent on 2,700 trips. The drop comes as Democrats, who
last week took control of the House, propose new rules
that would ban lobbyists and the organizations that employ
them from planning, financing or participating in such
Interestingly, one of the chief corporate targets of
the earlier report – General Atomics, a San Diego-based
defense contractor – has trimmed such gift-giving
significantly. General Atomics was the top corporate
sponsor of travel in the center's earlier study, spending
about $660,000 on 86 trips. During the most recent
one-year period, the company had spent less than $7,000 on
NEW YEAR, OLD FIGHT
The feud between two Southern California lawmakers
continues over Santa Rosa Island, that part of the Channel
Islands National Park where some enjoy hunting Roosevelt
elk and mule deer.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, the Alpine Republican who recently
stepped down as House Armed Services Committee chairman
and announced his presidential candidacy, slipped into the
defense authorization bill a plan that would void a court
settlement to end hunting on the island in four years.
Hunter wants hunting privileges to continue indefinitely
for disabled veterans and other military types.
Rep. Lois Capps, the Democrat whose district includes
the island, wants to end private hunting on the island so
the public can enjoy full, year-round access to the park –
even though Hunter maintains that hikers, bikers and
others still could enjoy the island if hunting continued.
Late last year, California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and
Barbara Boxer, both Democrats, weighed in. They attached
an amendment to the Veterans Affairs spending bill to
ensure the island would remain open to the public. But the
Senate bill was one of 11 pieces of appropriations
legislation that Congress failed to pass in the 109th
Capps' next move is to introduce a bill in the House to
reverse the Hunter language, perhaps in the next few
It didn't take long for Vista Republican Darrell Issa
to take a shot at newly seated House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The congressman sent the San Francisco Democrat a letter
hours after her colleagues elected her the first woman to
control the House gavel.
Issa chided Pelosi for what he called a “glaring error”
in her Democratic rules package, which he claims has the
unintended effect of grounding congressional members who
are pilots and aircraft owners. The rules – Pelosi's
attempt to keep her members in line after the ethical
lapses of the past year – apparently would prevent
congressional members who own aircraft from using them to
commute between Washington, D.C., and their districts, and
also would forbid member use of privately owned aircraft
to conduct personal business or to take a family vacation.
“This conspicuous error is the result of the hasty,
secretive manner in which you have assembled this
legislation,” Issa wrote Pelosi in a letter with such
terms as “dark of the night” and “behind closed doors” –
strong language for an easily corrected oversight.
The error “was a result of an oversight that could have
been corrected had Democrats not excluded Republicans and
written the rule in secret,” said Issa spokesman Frederick
Hill. “It's unfortunate that Democrats have broken their
promise to write legislation through an open process.”
Issa, a licensed pilot who does not own a plane,
typically takes a commercial airliner when traveling
between D.C. and San Diego.
Dana Wilkie is a
Washington-based correspondent for Copley News Service and
a longtime observer of California politics and social