Why Burton voted against banning free trips

Indiana Conservative Republican Congressman Dan Burton, the only member of the House of Representatives to vote last week against legislation prohibiting Members of Congress from lobbyist-financed trips, has a long history of junketing around the world when someone else is footing the bill as well as playing fast and loose with rules governing how he uses his Congressional office and campaign funds.

Burton, first elected to Congress in 1982, claims he voted against the bill prohibiting House members from taking trips when a lobbyist or special interest group if paying the tab because the legislation is “limited” and “doesn’t go far enough.”

In reality, Burton is usually one of the first in line for freebies. During his Congressional career, he has traveled far and wide at someone else’s expense – including free trips to Taiwan at the expense of a Republic of China university fronting for the Taiwanese government and a trip to South Africa on that government’s tab while apartheid still oppressed blacks.

House records show Burton has taken dozens of trips with lobbyists paying the bill. The Indiana Republican, a scratch golfer, often solicits trips to expensive resorts with championship courses. He was a frequent guest of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the former GOP power lobbyist convicted. One of Abramoff’s clients, Pitney Bowes, also picked up the tab for a June 2000 trip by a Burton aide.

Former aides to Burton say he has always had an eye out for ways to make money from his Congressional position or live large on someone else’s tab.

When members of Congress could still take “honorariums” for speeches to special interest groups, Burton was known on the Hill for his aggressive solicitation of such fees. He often would combine the appearance with a trip to a nearby golf course (with all expenses picked up by the sponsoring group).

Clerk of the House reports show Burton used Congressional office funds to lease a Lincoln Continental Town Car as “mobile district office” in Indiana but former staff members say the car was used for personal transportation by his wife while Burton was in Washington and by the Congressmen when he went back home.

Lunches with staff members and friends at the House Member’s Dining Room were charged back to his office as “meals with constituents.”

Burton also used his Congressional office to help his sex life which, according to Capitol Hill lore, is wide and varied.

Burton came to Washington in 1983 with a well established reputation as a ladies man, even though he was married and championed the “family values” platform of conservative Republicanism.

“All of the important people know the truth about Burton and pretend he’s upstanding,” Harrison Ullmann, a former Indianapolis Star reporter who edits NUVO Newsweekly, Indianapolis’s alternative paper, told Salon in 1998.

Writes Dick Cady in the Indianapolis Star, “During part of the 1970s and ’80s, Dan Burton was known as the biggest skirt-chaser in the Indiana legislature. Privately, some of his fellow Republicans expressed embarrassment. Lobbyists whispered about the stories of Burton’s escapades. Statehouse reporters joked about him. Yet no one ever wrote about, or probably thought about writing anything. To the people who sent him first to the legislature and then to Congress, Burton was Mr. Conservative, the devout husband and father who espoused family values.”

The “family values” Congressman admitted in 1998 he fathered a child out of wedlock in Indiana. He established a pattern of putting his girlfriends on his Congressional office payroll.

Rebecca Hyatt, who went to Washington as a member of Burton’s staff in 1983, later told a boyfriend that Burton has pressured her into an affair when she babysat his children back in Indiana. The affair continued after she came to Washington, according to ex-boyfriend James Rutledge and Hyatt’s ex-husband, Byron Hyatt.

Claudia Keller, a former “model” served as Burton’s “campaign manager” and ran a campaign office that was located outside the Congressman’s district in Indiana. According to next door neighbor Denise Range, Burton would often visit his “campaign office” where Keller would meet him at the door in a teddy or other revealing lingerie. Another neighbor, Melissa Bickel, told Salon that Keller would send her daughter over to the Bickel house when Burton came to call.

Federal Election Commission disclosure forms show Burton’s campaign paid Keller $40,000 a year in salary plus bonuses, along with $4,000 a month in rent for use of Keller’s home. Keller’s sister, Elizabeth Keller, along with her daughter and her ex-husband, also received payments from Burton’s campaign.

In 1988, Keller moved to Washington to become Burton’s “scheduler” on his Congressional office staff but continued to draw her campaign salary along with her salary for “official” business on Burton’s staff.

A U.S. attorney in Indiana has an open investigation into Burton’s use of “ghost employees” in his Congressional office and campaign staff. Although he represents one of the safest Republican districts in America, Burton has maintained a full-time, year-round campaign staff, even in non-election years – an unusual practice for a House member. One such campaign staffer, former high school girlfriend Sharon Delph, who later served as his secretary in the Indiana legislature, told investigators she had no idea she was an “employee” of the campaign.

FEC reports also show Burton, since his election in 1983, has billed his campaign for hundreds of thousands of dollars of unidentified expenses for travel, hotels, golf outings and even clothing.

In a complaint filed with the House Ethics Committee in 1999, the Congressional Accountability Project said Burton:

  • Defrauded the federal government by keeping a ghost employee, Claudia Keller, on his congressional payroll, in violation of federal law and House Rules;
  • Defrauded his own campaign committee, and converted campaign funds to personal use, by keeping two ghost employees, Claudia Keller and Sharon Delph, on his campaign payroll, in violation of federal law and House Rules;
  • Extorted campaign contributions, along with a member of his staff, Dan Moll, and solicited campaign funds in congressional offices, in violation of federal law; and,
  • Misused congressional funds, offices, resources and staff for campaign purposes, in violation of federal law and House Rules.

The Ethics Committee refused to hear the complaint, saying he could only consider allegations brought by another member of Congress.

At the same time the Ethics Committee refused to hear charges against Burton, the Department of Justice opened an investigation into complaints from Mark A. Siegel, a Washington lobbyist, who claimed he was “shaken down” by Burton, who demanded Seigel raise at least $5,000 for the Congressman from Pakistani-Americans.

The case remained active until Republicans took control of the Presidency in 2001 and President George W. Bush appointed John Ashcroft as attorney general. Ashcroft ordered the case closed.