Junkets-R-Us: Congressional Edition

class=img_thumbleft>In his four plus years of service in the United States Senate, duty has called Norm Coleman to such hardship posts as Aspen, Colorado, Barcelona, Spain and Punta Mita, Mexico. The junior senator from Minnesota has also been compelled to tend to official business in Las Vegas (three times, actually) and Palm Beach (four times). All told, Coleman and his staffers have lit out on 94 such trips, at a total cost of approximately $175,000. But an important caveat must be noted: none of the aforementioned expeditions were publicly funded. No, the tab for Coleman's globe-trotting ways has been picked up such civic-minded organizations as the National Organization of Broadcasters and the Consumer Electronics Association.

And that's precisely the problem, according to the D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity. In a recently released multi-media report, entitled "Power Trips," the Center collected five and a half years of data on the unseemly business of the privately-funded congressional junket. According to the report, senators, congressmen and their staffs have taken at least 23,000 privately-financed trips over that period. Tallied up, the value of these excursions comes to approximately $50 million.

Coleman is by no means the most promiscuous junket-eer to walk the halls of Congress. That distinction belongs to former House leader Tom DeLay, whose total filings came in at just under half a million dollars. Coleman, in fact, didn't even break the top ten. However, his freebie tab is the biggest in the Minnesota delegation. Here, in descending order, are the figures for the whole north star gang, with the top dollar trip, destination and sponsor in parenthesis:

Norm Coleman: $175, 483 ($20,732 to Yerevan, Armenia; Armenian Assembly of America)

Gil Gutknecht: $104,264 ($7,350 to Munich, Germany; Federation of German Industries)

Jim Oberstar: $102,865 ($9,408 to Paris, France and Stuttgart, Germany; International Management and Development Institute)

Jim Ramstad: $99,347 ($5,997 to London, England and Edinborough, Scottland; Edison Power Insitute; footnote: this trip, like the rest on Ramstad's filings, was taken by a staff member)

Collin Peterson: $80,631 ($8,428 to Capetown, South Africa; Alaska Natural Gas to Liquids)

Betty McCollum: $63,086 ($8,089 to Addis Ababa, Ethiopa; Parliamentary Network on World Bank)

Martin Sabo: $43,587 ($7,808 to Honolulu and Kona, Hawaii; Association of Airport Executives)

John Kline: $23,927 ($7,844 to Istanbul, Turkey; Aspen Institute)

Mark Kennedy: $16,551 ($4,727 to Israel; Jewish Community Relations Council)

Mark Dayton: $6,009 ($1,170 to various locations in Alaska; Aleyecka Pipeline Services)