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Published: Wednesday, 6/20/2001

Findlay's frequent flier

It's not quite how the old Ricky Nelson song goes, but U.S. Rep. Michael G. Oxley is a travelin' man, who's made a lot of stops all over the world - on the special-interest tab.

The 10-term Republican has taken 29 trips over the past five years, racking up more than $120,000 in expenses paid by various groups, many with business before Congress, a Columbus Dispatch study says.

Last fall, though, may have marked the high point for Findlay's Frequent Flier: a $14,000 week-long sojourn to Rome and Florence, coupled with a few days with his wife in Venice. What a deal! A couple of hours per day of briefings, sandwiched between tours of the Vatican, St. Peter's, and the Sistine Chapel. No doubt Mr. Oxley looked up a statue of St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, and knelt gratefully before it.

The tab for the Italian jaunt was picked up by the Ripon Educational Fund, one of the top sponsors of congressional travel, which in turn tapped Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and other special interests.

Among Ohio's 21-member House and Senate delegation, Mr. Oxley actually ranked second to the top traveler, Rep. Tom Sawyer, Democrat of Akron, who took 34 trips over five years. Together, the duo accounted for a third of the more than $615,000 in private funds that financed the delegation's travels. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Democrat of Toledo, is on the list for 10 trips costing $11,764, while Rep. Paul Gillmor, the Old Fort Republican, took just two at a cost of $3,120.

The justification, of course, is that the lawmakers are participating in “public policy” conferences and other educational endeavors. But Gary Ruskin, who heads the watchdog Congressional Accountability Project, sees it for what it is: “sponging off special interests.”

This is an old story for many members of Congress, who find it easy to parlay their power - Mr. Oxley is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee - into all sorts of fringe benefits. What the special-interest groups get in return is a bit less direct. At the very least it amounts to access to top decision makers.

While taxpayers can be glad they didn't get stuck with the cost, the feeling persists that these expensive odysseys constitute one more example of the incipient corruption that skews and distorts the democratic process.



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