House Travel Spending Is All Over The Map
The amount of money that members of the House of Representatives spend on all manner of office necessities -- especially travel -- vary widely.
Representatives spent a total of $6.8 million on travel from July through September, averaging about $15,800 per office. Some members, particularly those from faraway or rural districts, spent more than twice that amount. But, in a few cases, even members from neighboring districts of similar size spent vastly different sums on travel.
One big travel spender says the expenses reflect the lawmaker's heavy emphasis on working in the home district.
"We put a higher priority on traveling to the district and traveling within the district," said Jessica Gleason, chief of staff for Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.). Hastings' office spent $38,411 on travel in the summer months.
Neighboring Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, whose district is similar in size to that of Hastings, spent $22,415. A McMorris Rodgers spokesman said, "We try to go back every week."
Hastings's priority on traveling in the district is evident in the total expenditures for the quarter. Though Hastings spent more than any other Washington representative on travel, his third quarter total for all expenses came to $326,448, the second-smallest sum spent by all nine Washington representatives.
There are similar differences within other state delegations.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) spent $43,466 on travel, more than any of his colleagues in the contiguous United States. His neighbor, Rep. Tom Latham (R), spent only $13,821. The two districts are roughly the same size -- why the difference in travel costs? There's probably a simple answer, but King's office did not respond to a request for comment. A Latham spokesman said he'd let the number speak for itself.
Summer travel for the office of New Mexico's Harry Teague (D) totaled $40,274. His neighbor, Rep. Ben Lujan (D), disbursed just $20,697. Neither office responded to requests for comment.
In other states, differences in travel spending simply reflect size of the districts and their distance from Washington.
Republican Jerry Moran spent $41,999 traveling his district, the largest in Kansas. Neighbor Lynn Jenkins (R), of the much-smaller 2nd district, spent $14,800 traveling in the third quarter. A Moran spokesperson noted that Moran's district is "roughly the size of Illinois" and that the congressman holds 69 town hall meetings a year.
Local Virginia Congressman Jim Moran (D-Va.) spent the least money traveling in the third quarter, reporting a modest $208 in travel costs, and only $240 for the year to date. His biggest expenditure was a $45 car rental in September.
Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.) spent almost 100 times what his fellow Virginian spent in the same three months, totaling $19,522.
"Congressman Perriello's district is larger than the state of New Jersey," said Periello spokeswoman Jessica Barba. "It's a huge state to cover, and he is out all the time, every single weekend, meeting with people and staying in touch with his constituents."
Barba also said that Perriello's staff is particularly active in his district and that they held 21 town hall meetings in August.
Unsurprisingly, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) spent the most on travel, totaling $70,829. Young spokeswoman Meredith Kenny explained:
"We do like to send staff back [to Alaska] because it's not feasible for them to come to us. They travel the state mostly in August to hold meetings, although some staff travel throughout the year, but prices are much higher in August because of tourist season," Kenny said.
"Alaska has a horrible road system, so you have to fly everywhere, which is unique to our state. Congressman Young has some payments to security aviation and other private plane companies because when he travels to villages, he has to hire private planes."
Kenny also mentioned that food is more expensive up in Alaska. The cheapest meal in America might be in Tennessee -- the statement of disbursements shows that the office of Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.) spent five cents on a meal on Aug. 17. (Davis's office did not bother responding to a request for comment.)
The data is not very precise -- Phil Singer of Congress.org noted that when the House posted the data online for the first time this week, administrators "erased a vast array of details on the expenditures of House Members, making it impossible to determine what much of the money was actually spent on." Many expenditures are listed simply as "Commercial Transportation" or "Travel Reimbursement."
With additional reporting by Laura Bassett