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Story Archives: Making the news isn't always good
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|Making the news isn't always good|
It's not often our own 5th District congressman from Louisiana figures prominently in a news article in one of the finest newspapers on the planet.
That was the case over the weekend, though, when The Wall Street Journal published a page one piece scrutinizing how members of the Congress spend taxpayer monies to operate their congressional offices. Journal reporters reviewed thousands of pages of documents, which outlined expenses members of the Congress expensed to the government in 2008 for the government, or the taxpayers, to pay. The Journal was forced to physically review congressional expenditures because the information is not made available electronically, or online. In other words, the Congress sees to it that information concerning the expenditure of the people's money by the men and women who are elected by the people is hard to come by, or impossible to access unless one is willing to travel to Washington, D.C., to read it.
So much for transparency.
To make ends meet in operating their congressional offices, members of the House are each allocated $1.3 million-$1.9 million annually. Members of the Senate are given $2.9 million-$4.5 million per year. The discrepancies supposedly exist to compensate for the distance a member must travel between his or her home state and Washington.
Members of the Congress also are allowed to use their annual allotments to pay the salaries for their staffs, including year-end bonuses. In 2008, year-end bonuses for staffers ranged from a few hundred dollars to as much as $14,000.
Travel expenses and salaries usually eat up much of the money a member of the Congress has at his or her disposal. However, it is worth noting that members can use their allotments as they see fit.
That's not an understatement.
According to The Journal, Florida Rep. Alcee Hastings spent $24,730 in taxpayer money to lease a Lexus hybrid sedan. Ohio Rep. Michael Turner forked over $1,435 for a digital camera. Eni Faleomavaega, a House delegate from American Samoa, purchased two 46-inch Sony television sets. Rep. Howard Berman expensed $84,000 worth of personalized calendars for his constituents. Then-Congressman William Jefferson bought a Panasonic Toughbook laptop for $2,793, a purchase he made three months before he lost his re-election bid. Pennsylvania Rep. Chaka Fattah spent $22 for a Liz Claiborne cellphone pouch.
While Florida's Hastings took home the dubious honor for leasing the most luxurious automobile, 5th District Congressman Rodney Alexander showed us that he knows a good ride when he sees one. That would help explain why Alexander paid $20,000 in taxpayer monies for a 2009 lease on a Toyota Highlander. According to Alexander, the Toyota was leased for his district director to use.
"We have a large district, the largest in Louisiana," Alexander told The Journal. "We didn't want to lease a bicycle for him to use."
Though I appreciate Alexander's honesty and his humor in speaking with The Journal, his comments were beside the point. Furthermore, they could be interpreted as a bit offensive if you're a concerned taxpayer.
The comments were offensive if one would reflect for a moment or two. Remember, while Alexander and his colleagues were throwing around taxpayer monies on lavish expenses for themselves and their staff members, the Congress of the United States was busy driving the country deeper into debt thanks to government bailouts for corporate America. Worse, as members of the Congress rushed as 2008 came to a close to spend the allotments they're given annually to operate their congressional offices, CEOs at corporations that collected government bailout money were criticized for flying to Washington to testify before the Congress.
That begs the question.
Which is worse?
CEOs flying to Washington on corporate jets to beg the Congress for money to bail them out of a problem they helped create, or a member of the Congress spending the people's money on a high-dollar SUV for his district director to drive.
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