Now that Congress has cleaned up its ethical act (stop giggling) and banned junkets paid for by lobbyists (OK, who said, “Yeah, right”), this might be the last time it’ll be possible to calculate exactly how much it costs to buy a US senator or representative on the open market. So let’s go shopping.
According to the Web sites politicalmoneyline.com and americanradioworks.publicradio.org, the price tag on Maine’s entire congressional delegation over the last five years or so was a bargain. Our two Republican senators and two Democratic congressmen were purchased for a mere $185,597 in special interest money.
Most of that cash went to US Representative Tom Allen, who accepted $87,554 in freebies and ranked 61st among all members of Congress since 2001 in taking trips paid for by private entities, and US Senator Olympia Snowe, who raked in $70,499 and ranked 84th. In contrast, US Senator Susan Collins ($14,116, ranking 392nd) and Congressman Mike Michaud ($13,428, ranking 401st) looked virtuous.
Allen took lavish vacations — whoops, I mean attended important forums and conferences — on the tickets of the American Shipbuilding Association (a couple of three-day stays in Fort Myers, Florida), Harvard University (nine days in Fort Lauderdale and Aventura, Florida), the Keystone Energy Board (three days in Denver), and the Aspen Institute (Puerto Rico, China, Italy, Finland, Hawaii, Mexico, and Switzerland for a total of 44 days), usually with his wife.
Snowe gets honors for the most expensive single trip: a $20,000 six-day visit to Athens, paid for by the American College of Greece, which also gave her an honorary degree. Something called Greek Leadership 100 paid $2593 to gift her with three days in Phoenix and an award. The Panetta Institute brought her to Pebble Beach for yet another plaque at a cost of over $8400. And the Aspen Institute gave her a $13,000 trip to China and an $8000 visit to Moscow.
Collins was a less frequent flyer, but when she went, she was every bit as likely as her colleagues to travel on the ticket of a lobbyist. The Hospice Association of America and the National Association for Home Care covered the $2100 bill for three days in Vegas. The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee shelled out $1458 for five days in San Francisco. And the South African Institute of International Affairs and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations picked up the $1653 tab for six days in South Africa.
Michaud’s itinerary looks nearly as feeble as his influence in Congress. His only decent pay-off was four days in Seattle thanks to $2400 from Microsoft. Other than that, he got a three-day visit to Portland, courtesy of $654 from Jackson Labs. He spent two days and $850 in Golden, Colorado, as the guest of the River Valley Growth Council. And then there was the $873 check from Americans United to Protect Social Security, hardly sufficient to make up for two days spent in Dayton, Ohio.
Republican state Representative Gary Knight of Livermore Falls has submitted a bill that would ban college students from voting in Maine unless they live in the state year-round. Knight told the Kennebec Journal the students were committing massive fraud by voting where they went to school, while also casting absentee ballots in their home states. “They laugh about it, it’s a joke,” he said. “It can overwhelm a community.”