House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo took his family on a summertime tour of national parks in a recreational vehicle and billed taxpayers for the entire vacation.
Pombo, another Republican living large at taxpayer expense, claims it was appropriate to charge the $4,935 two-week rental of an RV to the government because of his committee oversees the nation's parks and public lands.
"I saw it as the cheapest way possible to get in and actually look at these parks," the California Republican said in a conference call with reporters. "It was not a personal trip." House rules forbid government-funded travel for personal vacations, but allow lawmakers to bring family members on official trips.
But legal experts say the true test of whether chargeoff to taxpayers was appropriate centers on whether or not Pombo's 5,000-mile driving junket -- which included stops in the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Joshua Tree, Sequoia-Kings Canyon and Mount Rushmore, the Badlands and other parks -- was vacation or work.
"If the congressman's trip was for anything other than business that was clearly related to the work of the committee, he may have a problem," says Mark Glaze, director of the government ethics program at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit legal group in Washington, D.C.
On the committee's Web site in 2003, Pombo described the trip: "This August, my family and I rented an RV and set out to explore the West. We spent two weeks on vacation, stopping along the way to enjoy the splendor of many of our national parks." He also described the backlog of repairs at many of the nation's parks.
Pombo became chairman of the Resources Committee in January 2003 and claimed he looked into flying into the parks by commercial air or charters, but found the costs excessive. After choosing to travel instead by RV, he invited his family along with him.
"There was absolutely no additional cost to the taxpayers ... to taking my family with me," he told he San Francisco Chronicle.
Pombo also claimed he spent all of his dasy talking to the park superintendents and other officials, while his wife and children enjoyed the parks with the other visitors. Pombo spokesman, Brian Kennedy, said a committee staffer called the House Administration Committee before the trip and received approval for the chairman, another Republican, to charge the RV expense.
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