Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Is this guy above the law?

Cheney Sidesteps Travel Disclosure Rules
Unlike the rest of the White House, Cheney refuses to make his outside travel public

By Kate Sheppard and Bob Williams


Cheney's office also appears to have stuck taxpayers with untold millions in travel costs rather than accepting trip sponsors' funds that the rules would require to be disclosed.

It's not as if those in Cheney's office don't indulge in the type of junkets that are routinely funded by private sources. Instead of accepting reimbursement for such trips like other government travelers, it appears that his office labels them "official travel." As a result, however, the public is kept largely unaware of where he and his staff are traveling, with whom they are meeting with and how much it costs, even though tax dollars are covering the bill.

It's also not as if Cheney hasn't faced questions about secrecy and his travel in the past. In January 2003, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was reportedly Cheney's guest aboard Air Force Two on a flight south for a winter duck hunting trip at a property owned by an oil executive in southern Louisiana.

The trip took place shortly after the Supreme Court had agreed to hear Cheney's appeal of a lawsuit that sought to force him to disclose the details about the national energy policy task force he chaired behind closed doors in 2001. Cheney had refused to disclose the substance of the discussions or to list those who met with the task force; that list was believed to include major players in the energy industry.

Some would credit the vice president's office for not accepting outside cash to cover his travel costs. That may be true, but critics point out that the Office of the Vice President's lack of disclosure also creates an opaque situation, with little or no transparency or accountability and at a substantial cost to taxpayers.

According to the White House Web site, Cheney made 275 speeches and appearances between 2001 and June 1, 2005, including 23 speeches to think tanks and trade organizations and 16 at colleges and universities. Before his term in office, the cost associated with travel, lodging and food for the vice president and his staff to attend such events was routinely reimbursed by the sponsor and reported to the Office of Government Ethics, which collects and distributes travel disclosure reports for the executive branch per disclosure rules. During the Clinton administration, former Vice President Al Gore's office disclosed more than $1 million in outside-funded travel from 1997 to 2000.

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