The Lazio Junkets

When Rick Lazio ran for Congress in 1992, he spent a great deal of time criticizing his opponent, 18-year incumbent Tom Downey, for taking junkets–those trips members of Congress do not pay for, in theory because the matters are related to policy, but just as often to have a good time.

“When Mr. Downey talks about his seniority on the House Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Lazio prefers to discuss Mr. Downey’s Congressional junket to Barbados a few years ago,” wrote The New York Times in October of that year. The Lazio campaign also sent a mailer to voters with a photograph of Downing throwing a football on the beach in Barbados under the caption “Tom Downey’s limousine liberal’s guide to surviving the recession.”

The junkets were clearly an important issue in the campaign. After Lazio won, and spent two terms in the House, he gave thousands of pages of campaign and legislative documents to Vassar College, including a whole box (#24) of “opposition research” and “junket documentation.”

The thing is, though, after Lazio won, he took more than a few junkets of his own over the course of two terms.

One of the first trips was in 1996, from April 7 to April 22, to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, courtesy of the Aspen Institute.

Four months later, Lazio spent eight days in Dublin thanks to the Ripon Educational Fund, which was described in a 2006 Washington Post story as  a “travel agency to lobbyists.”

On both trips, members of Lazio’s family accompanied him, according to Congressional records.

And that was just the beginning.

In 1996, Lazio went to West Palm Beach—with family members—for four days, three of which were “not spent at sponsor’s expense,” according to Congressional records Lazio signed. The trip was paid for by the New York State Food Merchants Association.

When Lazio went to Orlando early in 1997 (January 10 to January 13), he brought along a family member. He spent one day “not at sponsor’s expense.” The sponsor was Novogradac and Company, which then brought Lazio back to Orlando to be their keynote speaker at a four-day conference that began on January 5, 2000.

The Ripon Educational Fund popped up again in August of 1997 when it took Lazio and a family member to Prague from August 9 to 16.

Lazio went to Ft. Lauderdale, from October 31 to November 3, on a trip paid for by the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The congressman spent his July 4, 1999, weekend in Cape Cod, thanks to the Invest to Compete Alliance, which the Boston Globe described as “a little-known non-profit group started by a long-time lobbyist.”

The Mortgage Bankers Association paid for Lazio’s trip to Charlottesville, Virginia, from November 10 to November 12, 1999. Another member of the Lazio family went along.

In 2000, Lazio was the keynote speaker at a conference hosted by the U.S. Telecom Association, discussing issues facing Congress. The February 20 to February 22 conference took place in Palm Springs, California, with meals costing $200, lodging costing $870 and transportation costing about $2,098, according to Congressional records signed by Lazio.

There’s nothing illegal about these trips, nor are they uncommon among members of Congress, but for someone who doled out so much criticism to a congressman who had been on junkets, it seems like a large number for Lazio to indulge in himself.

The Lazio campaign, however, defends these jaunts.

“Rick is proud of his record as a member of Congress, when he worked on a variety of issues,” said spokesman, Barney Keller when I asked for comment. Keller cited Lazio’s work on cancer research and Israeli-American relations, and said Lazio is “confident that his service to our country has made a positive difference to the lives of people here and throughout the world.” The Lazio Junkets