While the LegiStorm database contains information on 29,125 trips taken in the last seven years, the full scope of congressional travel is still obscured from public view. Many free trips that members and their staff take, probably the vast majority, are not reportable under these private trules rules. These free trips that can be found in other kinds of disclosures, or are not disclosed at all, includes ones:
- paid from taxpayer allowances provided to members for official office expenditures;
- paid for by the U.S. government, or a state or local government in the United States;
- paid for by foreign governments;
- paid for by elected representatives or staff for campaign purposes;
- paid for by personal friends;
Often times, members of Congress and their staff disclose trips they never needed to since they were not privately financed. Dozens of trips in our database were actually paid for by U.S. federal government agencies. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who is a frequent traveler, disclosed flying at the expense of New Orleans taxpayers to introduce Mayor Ray Nagin at his reelection inaugural less than a year after that city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The disclosure was unnecessary by law.
One standout in disclosure is Sen. Norm Coleman. The Minnesota Republican, one of the top ten congressional travelers according to disclosures filed with the Secretary of the Senate, has gone beyond congressional travel disclosure requirements by placing information about all of his congressional trips - disclosable or not - on his website: http://coleman.senate.gov/_pdfs/Privately_travel_5.pdf.
Coleman's full disclosure illustrates well how LegiStorm's database can only tell part of the story when it comes to congressional travel. In 2003, for example, our database shows that Sen. Coleman disclosed 18 "privately financed" trips, although it appears that seven of these trips did not need to be disclosed because they were campaign-related. According to his website, he took 33 trips total during that year. The other trips were paid for by sources connected to his political party or by government sources (his Senate office, a Senate committee, or the military).