Schakowsky: 23 privately funded trips since 2007
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Evanston Democrat, has taken 23 privately funded trips worth about $198,000 since 2007, far more than U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, who faces an ethics investigation for one he took to Taiwan.
The 14-year lawmaker's travels range widely, from last year's $18,500 journey to Brazil for an Energy Security conference and a $17,600 trip to Belgium on foreign policy, to two 2007 flights to appear on Stephen Colbert's and Bill Maher's talk shows that cost $2,100 total, records compiled by the website Legistorm.com show.
Schakowsky's husband accompanied her on 10 of the 23 trips with his expenses paid, according to the records.
Since 2007, when Roskam, a Wheaton Republican, took office, he's taken six trips worth about $79,000, including the one to Taiwan.
Schakowsky spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said the trips are valuable for members of Congress who have to make foreign policy decisions in particular. Schakowsky is on the House Intelligence Committee.
"These trips encourage bipartisanship and are filled with rigorous policy discussions, so that when members do come back to Washington, D.C., they can make informed decisions and informed votes," Singh said.
Federal lawmakers' trips must be preapproved, and ethical probes are rare. Still, travels paid for by groups that sometimes have ties to lobbying interests in Washington could raise questions about their necessity.
"They can be really valuable," Illinois Campaign for Political Reform Deputy Director David Morrison said last week. "The other extreme is, they can just be junkets."
Roskam faces questions from the House Committee on Ethics about his 2011 trip funded by Chinese Culture University even though the same panel approved the trip for Roskam and his wife in advance, as House rules require.
A separate ethics panel has raised questions over whether the Taiwanese government was involved in planning the trip, which sparked the probe. Members of Congress are allowed to take trips paid for by foreign governments under particular situations.
Schakowsky is not under investigation for her travel.
Singh says many of Schakowsky's trips are funded by the nonpartisan Aspen Institute and have no lobbying impact on Schakowsky's work in Washington.
The Aspen Institute, based in Washington, D.C., is an education and policy nonprofit funded primarily through donations and grants.
Schakowsky's husband, Robert Creamer, accompanied her on trips to Brazil, Italy and Hawaii, among others. Singh says the Aspen Institute requires that spouses who attend take part in the lectures and meetings.
"It's important that their spouses can attend because they are such an integral part of the member's life," Singh said.
Spouses are included in the House preapproval process, and their costs are included in the reported prices of the trips. Members' staff can go, too.
Schakowsky isn't alone in traveling. Over the same time period, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis of Chicago took 21 privately funded trips worth about $87,000, and U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Chicago took 21 worth about $127,800 in total.
Most of the members of Illinois' suburban delegation in Washington are relatively new on the jobs, and their travel records reflect that.
U.S. Randy Hultgren, a Winfield Republican, has taken three privately funded trips worth about $4,500 in total, including one last year to give a commencement address at his alma mater, Bethel University in Minnesota.
U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, a Deerfield Democrat, took a $7,600 trip earlier this year to Israel paid for by the Jewish United Fund and Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.
U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, a Naperville Democrat, went to Israel with his wife in his first term in 2009, a $19,000 trip paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation.
And U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a Hoffman Estates Democrat, took one privately funded trip worth about $400 to the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology this year.
Roskam's six trips during his time in office include an Aspen Institute trip to India this year worth $16,600, and a 2010 Israel trip costing $14,600, also paid for by American Israel Education Foundation.
Roskam's spokeswoman declined to comment this week but sent out a statement about the probe into his Taiwan trip last week reiterating the congressman was preapproved for the travel as required.
"The record reflects that Rep. Roskam fully complied with all laws, rules, and procedures related to privately sponsored travel," spokeswoman Stephanie Kittredge said in a statement. "The trip was vetted and approved by the House Ethics Committee, the body legally authorized to make determinations on congressional conduct."