WASTE WATCHCongress Travel Spending
from Eyewitness News Online
Lawmakers Spend Thousands On Travel; Some Unexpected Expenses
May 17, 2012
The legislature spends millions of dollars each year on travel, a lot of that goes to getting around the state and getting to Charleston to work. But Eyewitness News has found out there's a big chunk of change that goes out-of-state, lawmakers and even some who aren't elected spending days at national conferences at the taxpayers' expense.
In 2011, lawmakers spent a lot of time traveling to conferences. Dozens of lawmakers and staffers spending tens of thousands of dollars in San Antonio, TX, Tampa, FL, Pinehurst, NC, Washington D.C. and Memphis, TN, to name a few. Twenty-two lawmakers and staff went to the Southern Legislative Conference in Memphis in July of 2011. The total tab for the trip, according to expense reports turned in from those who went, was more than $35,000.
But while tracking where those taxpayer dollars were going, we found some red flags.
Most of the committees met over a two day period and while some lawmakers attended more than one meeting, others only signed in at one. But nearly all those who attended booked five nights in Memphis, at upwards of $200 a night. One lawmaker says there are other events scheduled throughout the week, in Memphis, one of those events included a trip to see the Elvis museum.
The Sergeant At Arms for the Senate, the man tapped with maintaining order and decorum in the chambers, also made the trip to Memphis. The cost to send him was $1,900.
Senate President Jeff Kessler signed off on the trip because he says the officer is on the Southern Legislative Committee and its part of his duties. But the committee meeting he attended focused on topics from the US Economy to Pensions. Kessler admits those topics aren't applicable to the Sergeant At Arms but adds they don't set the schedule.
"One of the highest ranking officers of the senate so he has the opportunity to go and expand his knowledge and bring back innovative ideas to the Senate. I think that's a small price to pay of a thousand or two for him to participate," Kessler says.
The same conference is set for Charleston this year and Kessler says it was important for the Sergeant At Arms to experience what one was like so he could prepare for the one here.
We also asked what lawmakers and others do once they get back, there's no formal presentation but many lawmakers say the meetings help guide them in certain areas or could help them create laws.
We also discovered that two lawmakers didn't sign into any of the meetings in Memphis. Delegate Dale Stephens in a phone interview assures us he attended the meetings but missed the sign in sheet.
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