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Living large and wild on taxpayer-funded Congressional junkets

By DOUG THOMPSON - Capitol Hill Blue
August 20, 2012

A Paris sunbather in 1985. Photo taken during a Congressional delegation visit to the Paris Air Show.
(Photo by Doug Thompson)

A report about a drunken night in Israel where several Republican members of Congress, including at least one wife and one daughter along with several staff members, consumed way too much booze and then frolicked naked in the Sea of Galilee at the spot where Jesus is said to have walked on water is causing a stir in official Washington.

Although the night of ribald behavior occurred during an official junket to the Holy Land in August 2011, it surfaced this week in a report on Politico.  Other news organizations have picked it up.

House Majority Whip Eric Cantor, one of the leaders of the delegation, claims he wasn’t present when our elected officials and others stripped down and plunged into the waters and also claims he reprimanded those who did.

Such behavior, Cantor says is “unacceptable” and cannot be repeated.

Really?  Such behavior has been going on Congressional junkets for years.  It’s part of the lore of traveling in style at taxpayer expense.

In the days before Capitol Hill Blue, I served a stint as a staff member on the House Committee on Science and Technology from 1985-87, I went on several “CoDels” — Capitol Hill lexicon for “Congressional Delegations.”  In 1985, on a CoDel that included visits to England, Israel and Rome, we checked into a hotel in the Israeli resort community of Eilat, where topless sunbathing is normal.  Several members of Congress immediately headed for the pool with cameras to photograph the collection of bathing beauties flaunting their assets.  More than one offered to help the young ladies apply suntan lotion to various body parts.

Amy Thompson takes a ride on “Kojack” just outside of Bethlehem during a Congressional Delegation junket to Isreael in 1985. She is the wife of Capitol Hill Blue publisher Doug Thompson, who was a staff member of the House Committee on Science & Technology at the time.
(Photo by Doug Thompson)

My wife was allowed to accompany me on that trip.  All her expenses were paid by taxpayers and we both received generous daily “per diem” in cash for out of pocket expenses.

Later that year, in France for the Paris Air Show, I watched members of the Congressional delegation climb on stage at a strip club and dance with the performers.  One married member of Congress, traveling without his wife, took one of the young ladies back to our hotel.

Some male members of Congress would venture out to Paris parks and along the Seine to photograph female Parisians who sunbathed topless.  They would brag about the “nipple alerts” that came up during their forays.  Did I take some photos of topless sunbathers?  Absolutely.

I partied too hard with other staff members and an Air Force sergeant serving as escort and we closed the “Control Room,” a hotel suite that served as the “command center” at the hotel.  The next morning, the sergeant was asleep on one couch and I was on another when we were rudely awakened by someone praying in a loud voice

I opened one eye to find Rep. Bill Nelson of Florida on his knees with his wife, holding a prayer service in the middle of the Control Room.  Although Nelson invited all members of the CoDel to attend, the only others in the room were the sergeant and myself and we were struggling to control the pain of hangovers.

On such “official” trips funded by taxpayer dollars, I saw members of Congress get drunk and pass out, escort young women to their hotel rooms for the night, lose their “per diem” payments and more at casinos and engage in other antics that wouldn’t set well with folks back in their home districts.  One member bragged about getting a blow job from an female employee of the American Embassy in Paris.  Another claimed to have bedded a young lady who worked for the Embassy in London.

Of course, all of these junkets were called “fact-finding” missions but they were, in reality, taxpayer-funded vacations where Congressional wives shopped at the American Embassy stores, paying wholesale prices for French perfume, Italian leather goods or duty-free booze.  I still own a gold Heuer watch that I bought at one Embassy store for about 40 percent of what it would have cost in a jewelry store.

On the flight home from the Paris Air Show in 1985, the largesse from shopping sprees overflowed the cargo holds of the Air Force KC-135 that provided air transportation so some of it was packed into the restrooms of the plane, leaving just one for use on the long flight.

Even staff members received royal treatment at taxpayer expense.  Before the trip, an Air Force escort would call to inquire about any special dietary needs and to learn what booze I preferred.  I was drinking single-malt scotch in those days and a generous supply of Glenlivit was always on hand.

We didn’t deal with customs on any country we visited.  All check ins were handled by Air Force personnel and upon arrival back in the States at Andrews Air Force base, our bags were loaded into an official military vehicle and each of us received a drive home without the normal hassle of customs or commercial air travel.

That was more than 20 years ago.  From the reports of a drunken night in Israel last year, it looks like things haven’t changed on Congressional junkets.

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2 Responses to Living large and wild on taxpayer-funded Congressional junkets

  1. Sandy Price

    August 21, 2012 at 9:54 am

    The American people vote for and support all the representatives that you have described. Very few voters bother to meet or even question the actions of their candidates as they go off duty and relax. There is little difference when corporations gather to celebrate a new product or new plant. The main difference is that our congressional representatives are doing this on the backs of the American people. They should do this as many Senators do, closer to home. Should we forget the article that Hal Brown wrote about the Senate House of Ill-repute that became nothing more than a whore house in D.C.?

    It’s the hypocrisy of the whole thing. This week, we get a chance to see the religious background of our candidates. Will the truth about Mormon women and African Americans be exposed? Hell no! It’s the Mormon’s dirty little secret.

    The exposure will make headlines in a few years. Too late! Always too late….

  2. JIm B.

    August 21, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    “Revealing” article (pun intended), Doug!

    Oh, it’s a tough break for the senator/congresspersons who ran on a “moral” ticket or the tea party senator/congresspersons who are supposed to be pinchin’ every Federal Reserve penny….now those two types can’t have any fun on these “Sodom and Gomorrah” junkets…because….woe to him or her if they are found out.