Private trips go on despite scrutiny

Thirteen House and Senate aides took a privately paid trip to Europe over the Memorial Day recess despite the intense scrutiny of the funding of such excursions.

The aides departed last Saturday for a week’s stay in Prague, Paris and London courtesy of the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to lowering taxes and improving simplicity, to learn about tax issues facing Western Europe, said Bill Ahern, the foundation’s spokesman.

Ahern also provided a House ethics committee letter that gave guidance to the foundation on the ethical boundaries of private travel. But Reps. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), the chairman and ranking Democrat on the panel, said that they do not provide advice to outside organizations and that it would be “inappropriate … to suggest that the trip had been ‘pre-cleared’ by the Committee.” 

The staffers — most of whom work for lawmakers with jurisdiction over key tax issues — are employed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.), Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.), the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Reps. Phil English (R-Pa.), Jim McCrery (R-La.), Sam Johnson (R-Texas), Jerry Weller (R-Ill.) and William Jefferson (D-La.).

According to the itinerary provided by Ahern, the 13 aides will be treated to a walking history tour of Prague and meetings with Czech government officials. In Paris, they will get a briefing from officials at the U.S. Embassy and tour a Pepsi bottling plant.

After less than two days in Paris, the group will travel to London to meet with British tax officials, including a meeting with an aide to Prime Minister Tony Blair at 10 Downing St., his official residence, and it will get a tour of Parliament.

Jonathan E. Kaplan