WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott’s well-known globe-trotting ways have landed him a dubious new distinction – he took one of the priciest congressional trips in recent history.
According to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, the Seattle Democrat’s roughly $21,000 five-day visit to Bali in November apparently is the most expensive trip by a member since Congress tightened rules on privately funded travel in 2007 to reduce influence peddling.
That and an additional $24,000 in expenses for a McDermott aide, Jessica Lee, were covered by Chemonics International, a Washington, D.C., company that contracts with the federal government on health, education and other development projects around the world.
McDermott, co-chairman of the congressional Indonesia Caucus, attended the Bali Democracy Forum. While there, he also met with Indonesian officials to discuss new trade regulations that have all but halted exports of Washington state apples and other crops to the Southeast Asian nation.
Kinsey Kiriakos, McDermott’s spokesman, said McDermott was en route to Seattle on Friday and unavailable for comment.
Kiriakos defended the Indonesian trip, noting McDermott attended the conference at the request of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. McDermott also traveled to Jakarta to see Indonesia’s foreign ministry and trade officials.
Kiriakos said Chemonics funded the trip out of a three-year contract from the U.S. Agency for International Development to promote pro-democracy agendas.
“This was like the most unforgiving trip,” Kiriakos said, adding that McDermott had no control over the trip’s costs. “The congressman believes that the best way to get things done is to meet with people.”
McDermott is a top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee and is heavily involved in free-trade issues.
McDermott, 75, is one of the more avid travelers in Congress. He has taken 26 trips in the last six years, including 12 to Japan, Rwanda, Turkey and other international destinations. The trips were funded mostly by nonprofits and private foundations.
In August, for instance, McDermott took a six-day, $5,270 trip to Belgium to participate in a conference sponsored by The Aspen Institute on relations among the United States, Europe and Russia.
By comparison, McDermott’s longtime Democratic colleague, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks of Bremerton, took two trips during the same six-year period. Those trips, one to Hawaii on U.S.-China relations, and one to Madrid on U.S.-Russia relations, each cost about $8,500.
The tab for McDermott’s part of the Indonesia visit included $9,548 airfare from Seattle to Bali to Washington, D.C., as well as $1,000 for lodging and $750 for meals. It also included indirect expenses, including $2,500 for interpreters, $400 for lodging for security escorts, and $1,600 for meeting space and food for a dinner reception.
The costs of such privately funded trips are easier to track than official congressional delegation trips. Those so-called CODELs are paid for by the government. Many such trips are taken aboard military-owned aircraft.
Unlike with commercial flights, the Defense Department does not have to disclose the costs of its flights, something lawmakers have tried to require without success.
Lawmakers have joined CODELs on jaunts through Europe and the Mediterranean, sometimes with spouses in tow. This summer, Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., canceled a CODEL to Monte Carlo, Monaco, that he had planned to lead to discuss human trafficking after the Washington Post publicized it.