By MICHAEL COLLINS
For House Republican leader John Boehner, not all roads lead back home.
The Ohio lawmaker has taken more exclusive golf outings, lobbyist-funded vacations and fund-raising excursions over 6-1/2 years than trips back to his home state to visit with constituents, a public watchdog group said Thursday.
Boehner has traveled at taxpayer expense by plane back to his home district just north of Cincinnati 149 times from January 1999 to September 2005, according to a review of his travel records by Campaign for a Cleaner Congress.
During the same period, Boehner took 180 trips to destinations outside of his district, including trips to a number of exclusive golf resorts. Those excursions cost at least $818,000 and were paid for by Boehner’s political action committee, congressional campaign and private interests, the group said. Boehner’s PAC and congressional campaign accept donations from individuals and special interests.
"At the time when Congress is most in need of lobbying reform, House Republicans have chosen a leader who seems to care more about his campaign donors, lobbyist friends, and fine-tuning his golf swing on some of the most exclusive golf courses in the world," the report said.
Boehner aides said the report is flawed and misleading because it doesn’t take into account the times he has driven back to Ohio to be with constituents.
"Considering that Boehner heads home to West Chester (Ohio) pretty much every weekend, this ‘report’ is patently misleading," said Boehner spokesman Don Seymour. "This group, which is affiliated with a former Clinton adviser, even had to cherry-pick data _ it only includes plane trips _ to reach its conclusion."
Campaign for a Cleaner Congress is an affiliate of American Family Voices, a nonprofit group led by Mike Lux, who worked as a special assistant for public liaison under President Bill Clinton.
Mike Casey, a spokesman for Campaign for a Cleaner Congress, said he found it hard to believe that Boehner frequently makes the 425-mile drive from Washington to Cincinnati.
"Maybe pigs fly, and members (of Congress) drive," Casey said.
Campaign for a Cleaner Congress said it searched congressional records and campaign disclosure reports to piece together the most extensive look yet at Boehner’s travel.
Among the findings:
_ Most of the 180 trips taken by Boehner outside of Ohio were to exclusive golf resorts, including St. Andrews Links in Edinburgh, Scotland; Pebble Beach Resorts in Monterey, Calif.; the Miami Beach Golf Club in Miami Beach, Fla.; and Pinehurst in Pinehurst, N.C. Boehner is an avid golfer, and all of the courses have hosted premier professional golf tournaments.
_ 119 of the trips were paid for by Boehner’s PAC, the Freedom Project; 22 were congressional campaign trips; and 39 were funded entirely by private entities.
"It’s safe to say that Congress is something John Boehner does in between luxury trips with his lobbyist friends," Casey said. "We don’t think that is the way it ought to be.”
The report noted that Boehner presented himself as a "reformer" during the campaign for majority leader, but has steadily backed away from proposed changes to ethics rules since he was elected to the leadership post in February. A ban on privately funded travel has been among the changes floated by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.
"Congressman Boehner’s travel habits are a strong personal disincentive to back such reform, because any law enacted by Congress curtailing the activities of lobbyists and political contributors would have a direct effect on the quality of life to which he has become accustomed," the report said.
Seymour, however, said Boehner is open to a moratorium on privately funded travel "to allow time for the ethics committee to develop standards that can then be used to ‘pre-approve’ or forbid trips for members and staff."
"At the end of the day, Boehner believes sunshine and transparency is the single most effective safeguard against political mischief and corruption, and he’ll continue to push for more disclosure and transparency," Seymour said.
(Contact Michael Collins at CollinsM(at)shns.com)