Rep. McInnis keeps his travel agent busy
How about a free trip to warm and sunny Arizona in February, or to beautiful Alaska in August – for no charge? Jackson Hole? Beaver Creek?
These aren’t prizes in some Hollywood game show, but the destinations visited by 3rd District Congressman Scott McInnis and his wife, Lori, in 2001.
The trips came at no cost to them or taxpayers. Each of the trips was funded by private groups and disclosed in a U.S. House of Representatives travel disclosure form.
McInnis says rather than looking at these trips as prizes in some cosmic lottery, they’re just a necessary part of his job.
“If you’re a farmer, you have to go out and check the field,” McInnis said on Wednesday.
He also stressed that in each of the trips, no taxpayer dollars were used, which, according to McInnis, is a boon.
“If the government paid for it, they’d be on you for that,” he said.
But some say the trips give an unfair opportunity for special interest groups to have the congressman’s ear for an extended length of time.
During his Aug. 8-14 trip to Alaska, which included an excursion to Denali National Park, McInnis admitted the National Parks Conservation Association had his attention for considerable periods of time.
But during most of his trips, he said he keeps busy at workshops, seminars and conferences when he’s not in a car or a plane.
He expressed some irritation at how the trips were characterized in a story that ran in Monday’s Denver Post. The story mentioned his June 21-23 trip to Beaver Creek. The story said, “a think tank paid $950 for McInnis and his wife to spend the night at a ski resort in his district.”
“The World Forum is a meeting of world leaders and you can attend by invite only. It’s not some right wing group like they made it out to be,” he said. “It’s a privilege to go to that thing.”
The annual World Forum session is a closed-door meeting of former world leaders.
McInnis said it would be ridiculous to drive home to Grand Junction from Beaver Creek after the day’s meetings were over, then turn around and drive back the next morning.
Regarding his trip to Alaska, McInnis pointed out that he is chairman of the House Forests and Forest Health Subcommittee.
“They wanted to show their perspective of what’s done,” he said of the National Parks Conservation Association, the environmental group that paid for his trip.
Trips to Scottsdale, Ariz., Feb. 23-26, and to Jackson Hole, Wyo., July 5-8, were bankrolled by railroad organizations. Again, McInnis insisted these trips were part of his job.
“Railroads are critical in our district. They provide several thousand jobs,” he said. “So they asked me to be a speaker at these events.”
In all, the Vail Foundation, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Association of American Railroads and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad paid a total of $13,740.84 in travel expenses for McInnis and his wife, Lori.
In addition, McInnis aide Christopher Hatcher was flown to three countries in Europe and to Jacksonville, Fla., on a fact-finding mission for McInnis.
The stated mission for Hatcher’s trips – paid for by the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit organization set up to educate the public about taxes – was to gather information about taxes. His Florida trip was to attend an excise tax conference and his trip to Europe was for “education about tax systems in Europe and trade issues” between the United States and the European Union.
The total price tag for all this traveling? $22,148.09.
In all, these trips make McInnis’ office the most well-traveled of Colorado’s six representatives and two senators.
But McInnis counters claims that he is taking advantage of the travel offers made by private groups by pointing out that he only takes a fraction of the trips offered to him.
“We get invitations all the time,” he said. “I’ll bet I get 15 to 20 requests a week.”
And to the claims in the Denver Post story that the expense reports are difficult to get ahold of, McInnis disagreed.
“The key to our travel is, we have nothing to hide,” he said. “If there was one thing in my job I could eliminate, it would be the travel.”
Travel expenses for Colorado’s U.S. senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Wayne Allard, both Republicans, also were released. Campbell spent the most private money on traveling, $26,083.71; while Allard spent $7,256.78.
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