The Washington Post's R. Jeffrey Smith and Derek Willis leaf through travel and expense records and confirm, though not as breathlessly as some Post campaign finance stories, what wasn't really a secret about lawmakers and corporate jets: a dozen current or former leaders in the House and Senate, "each with exceptional power to determine the fate of legislation and regulation," flew on corporate-owned jets at least 360 times between January 2001 and December 2004. Running down the most-to-least list, House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) are at the top, followed by Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-NV), Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL). LINK
"The use of these jets remains one of the last corporate-financed perquisites of elected office allowed under congressional ethics rules, which permit lawmakers to fly on them to fundraisers and other events despite a welter of laws meant to restrain the influence of corporations in politics."
"No limits exist on the frequency of such corporate flights, even though lawmakers have an annual taxpayer-financed allowance to cover the cost of flying commercial airlines on official business."
". . . The records show that flights were provided by some of Washington's largest corporate interests, including tobacco, telecommunications, business consulting, securities, air transport, insurance, pharmaceutical, railroad and food companies. Officials at some of these firms said that they granted requests for flights in the hope of currying favor with the leaders, that lobbyists were typically onboard their flights, and that they used the opportunity to press the interests of the aircrafts' owners."
The duo Note that lawmakers have to make some sort of payment for the flights, but they're heavily discounted and paid for out of PAC and donor money. Read all the way to the end for a look at the (legal, we remind you) flight/lobbying relationship between DeLay and Reliant Energy, Inc., of Houston.
Again: this type of story will worry Members who are concerned about a "everybody does it, but that doesn't mean that the country will like it" backlash.
The New York Times' Carl Hulse manages a nice wrap of yesterday's events; a quote from Marty Meehan, props to the American Progress Action Fund, DeLay on said Action Fund, the ethics panel recusals, etc. LINK
Mike Allen of the Washington Post reports that House Republican leaders said yesterday they'll consider tightening lobbying and travel rules and may find a way to grant amnesty for minor infractions in an effort to ward off a tit-for-tat ethics investigation war. It would not, however, preclude an investigation into the allegations surrounding the travel of Tom DeLay. Allen also Notes that Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) said he's on board with some of the ideas for overhauling the lobbying rules offered yesterday by Reps. Martin Meehan (D-MA) and Rahm Emanuel (D-IL). LINK
Speaking of, Roll Call's Ben Pershing and Erin Billings take a look at Republicans' increasing attacks on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
The Los Angeles Times' Richard Simon reports that Reps. Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) and Tom Cole (R-OK) recused themselves Wednesday from the DeLay investigation because they have contributed to his legal defense fund. LINK