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Democrats Udall and Bingaman are the Top Travelers in New Mexico's Delegation

By Michael Coleman
Journal Washington Bureau
    WASHINGTON— Rep. Tom Udall has accepted more than $45,000 in free travel for himself and his wife since 2003, far more than any other member of New Mexico's congressional delegation, according to U.S. House and Senate records.
    The New Mexico Democrat and his wife, Jill, have traveled to Italy, Switzerland, Finland, South Africa, Germany and twice to Mexico at the expense of think tanks and other organizations since January 2003, House records show.
    Sen. Jeff Bingaman, also a Democrat, was the delegation's second most frequent flier on trips paid for by special interests over the past two-and-a-half years. Bingaman accepted about $15,000 worth of free travel, Senate records show.
    Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., accepted the least amount of free travel of any member of the New Mexico congressional delegation since 2003. Wilson reported $1,700 in trips, all within the United States.
    Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., reported traveling on two free trips, totaling about $2,500 worth, since 2003. One trip, courtesy of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, was to a conference where he delivered a speech in Houston in January 2003.
    Domenici's other trip— to Hobbs, N.M., in October 2004— was paid for by Louisiana Energy Services, according to Senate records.
    Rep. Steve Pearce took four free domestic trips, including two with his wife, valued at about $4,000 since taking office in 2003. Pearce's travel included a conference sponsored by the Business Roundtable in New York City valued at almost $1,600.
Top trip supplier
    The Aspen Institute picked up the tab for five trips for Udall and his wife since 2003. Those trips were valued at more than $33,000, according to Udall's disclosure reports.
    The Washington-based Aspen Institute is described on its Web site as "an international non-profit dedicated to fostering enlightened leadership and open-minded dialogue."
    The institute was the top benefactor for members of Congress accepting free trips between 2000 and 2005. According to the Federal Election Commission, the institute spent more than $3 million on congressional travel over the past five years.
    Udall's Aspen Institute travel included a conference on education in Cancun, Mexico, in February 2004, and a conference on U.S. policy in Latin America in Punta Mita, Mexico in January 2005.
    The Aspen Institute paid for Udall and his wife to travel to conferences on the global environment in Lausanne, Switzerland, in June 2004 and Rome, Italy, in May 2003, as well as a conference on political Islam in Helsinki, Finland, in June 2003.
    Udall and his wife also traveled to Madagascar and South Africa for a land conservation seminar in January 2004, courtesy of Conservation International, an environmental interest. That trip carried an $8,200 price tag, according to House records.
    The couple also journeyed to Berlin, Germany, in April 2003 courtesy of the U.S. Association of former members of Congress. The trip, billed as "a congressional study group on Germany," was valued at about $3,500.
    Udall spokesman Glen Loveland said the travels provide members of Congress valuable education in a complex post-Sept. 11 world.
    "These trips give Congressman Udall the chance to learn first-hand from international scholars on many important issues," Loveland said. "He's taken about two trips per year on average because there are so few opportunities for substantive discussion here in Washington on a bipartisan basis with senators and other representatives."
    Bingaman's travels included trips with his wife, Anne, to Moscow and Finland that were also paid by the Aspen Institute.
    The institute paid for Bingaman and his wife to attend a seminar in Moscow on U.S-Russian relations in August 2003, and a meeting on political Islam in Helsinki in June 2003, records show.
    Bingaman traveled to a health care conference in Florida in January 2004 and Harvard University picked up the $2,800 tab.
    The senator and his wife also traveled to Beaver Creek, Colorado, in June 2003 for a seminar with the conservative American Enterprise Institute. That trip, at the invitation of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, was valued at $4,600.
    Bingaman said he accepts travel if it helps him do his job.
    "I travel to a conference or event if I think the presentation is sufficiently informative, and if it's an issue I feel I need to know more about," Bingaman said in a statement.
    Wilson's most expensive trip, according to House reports, was a two-day visit to Los Angeles where she was a guest on the HBO program "Real Time with Bill Maher."
    The HBO network picked up $1,585 in travel expenses for the Albuquerque congresswoman. Wilson also reported that she donated an $800 payment she received for appearing on the show to United Methodist Church.
    "Travel of this type should have a substantial benefit for New Mexico, and that's the standard I apply," Wilson said in a statement. "I live in Albuquerque, so most of my travel is back and forth from New Mexico to Washington."