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House GOP Probes Election Trips

September 12, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republicans are demanding three Clinton Cabinet members produce details of election-year trips paid for by the taxpayers. Lawmakers say the travel may have been designed to boost the campaigns of vulnerable House Democrats.

``By law, taxpayers should only be subsidizing travel expenses required for the conduct of official business,″ says an Aug. 31 letter to Education Secretary Richard Riley, recently back from a seven-state back-to-school bus tour. The letter cites reports that Riley also twice visited the districts of candidates facing tough races.

Riley spokeswoman Roberta Heine said Tuesday that the trips questioned by lawmakers were official business and not campaign stops. The department will provide the documentation, she said.

``Education is always high on the list of issues Americans are interested in,″ said Heine, adding Riley has visited GOP member districts as well. ``Members of Congress often invite the secretary to visit their districts. These aren’t political visits.″

House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman William Goodling of Pennsylvania, and Rep. Pete Hoestra, R-Mich., chairman of its investigations subcommittee, want Riley and Labor Secretary Alexis Herman to give detailed accounts of official business trips they’ve taken this year.

Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees HUD, last month asked Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo for travel records.

Labor Department spokeswoman Gail Shibley said the office is working on the lawmakers’ request. Ginger Cruz, a HUD spokeswoman, said that the documents were delivered and that no campaigning was done on Cuomo’s official trips.

Cabinet members are allowed to campaign for fellow party members, but not on federally funded official-business trips.

Goodling and Hoestra want dates, costs, schedules and names of non-department employees and campaign workers who might have planned or traveled on the trips. Riley’s deadline is Thursday. The request for Herman’s records, made Monday, has a Sept. 22 deadline. Cuomo had a Sept. 7 deadline.

The Republicans’ letter to Riley cites an Aug. 27 report by The Washington Post that the education chief’s trips were taken in the districts of Democrats locked in competitive races, including Rep. Mike Forbes of New York, who switched parties last year, and Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey.

``They are the two most vulnerable Democratic members in the country,″ said Marit Babin, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Heine said that Riley visited a school in Holt’s New Jersey district, home to one of the fastest-growing school enrollments, to highlight the need for school building and repair.

The two visits to Forbes’ district involved school visits and grant awards, she said.

Riley attends roughly 30 events a month, which range from touring classrooms to speaking at conferences, she said. But he made campaign stumps for Vice President Al Gore in Iowa and New Hampshire during the primary, she said. He’s campaigning this week for Gore in Louisiana, Florida and Missouri, paid for by the Democratic National Committee.

In July, he attended a breakfast for Rep. Bart Stupak, of Michigan, who invited Riley from a nearby school visit. It was not immediately clear whether Riley paid or Stupak paid for the travel.

``Taxpayers were not charged for any costs associated with this,″ she said.

It’s not unusual for such travel to raise political hackles, said Michael Mezey, a congressional scholar who heads liberal arts studies at DePaul University, in Chicago.

``It would probably be fair enough to look at Bush Cabinet travel in October and November of 1992, it would not be surprising if one found a similar pattern,″ he said. ``Given the fact that in 1992 and 2000 we’ve had an incumbent vice president running, the line between defending the administration and advocating the candidate is probably a little bit more blurry in that respect.″

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