Pombo billed taxpayers for RV vacation

    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.