According to a new report by the Center for Public Integrity, a cool $111 million has been spent by the media since 1996 to lobby politicians and regulators through junkets and other largesse. For example, in 1997, top spenders were Time Warner and Disney, which spent $4.1 million and $3.3 million, respectively. Since' 97, 118 members of Congress and staffers have been treated to 315 media-funded trips costing more than $455,000.
Senate and House Commerce Committee chiefs Thomas Bliley and Billy Tauzin and their staffs were the Hill's most frequent corporate flyers, with 61 trips in the past three years.
The center also criticizes FCC employees for taking 1,460 trips since 1995, at a cost of $1.5 million. The FCC's top flyers: Robert Pepper, head of the policy-and-planning office, with $78,000 of paid travel.
The center takes great umbrage at the paid travel, but many of the "junkets" are red-eye flights to West Coast conventions, where policymakers give a quick update on the latest Washington developments.
Then again, there's Tauzin's $19,000, six-day trip to Paris for an industry conference courtesy of Time Warner and Reuters. Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson defends his boss' trips. "You can't make political decisions that affect billion-dollar companies with your head stuck in the sand in Washington," he said.