WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwire - Jun 21, 2011) - Judicial Watch, the organization that fights government corruption, announced today that the Senate Committee on Ethics sent a letter on June 3, 2011, to all Senate Members and staff to make certain they "understand and adhere to the rules on unused per diem," following a Judicial Watch ethics complaint over alleged widespread abuse of cash per diem travel funds by members of Congress. The Senate Ethics Committee refused, however, to hold accountable individual members of Congress referenced in press reports documenting per diem abuse.
According to the Senate Ethics Committee letter sent to Judicial Watch on June 8, 2011:
...based upon review of the information you have provided, it appears that your complaint lacks merit and further Committee action is not appropriate with respect to this matter. The Committee, however, has recently circulated a "Dear Colleague" letter to ensure that all Members and staff, especially those who are new to the Senate, understand and adhere to the rules on unused per diem.[Emphasis added]
The Senate Ethics Committee letter sent to each U.S. Senator states:
There has been recent media attention regarding the use of foreign travel per diem by Members and staff of the Senate. We want to make sure that you and your staffs know that any unused portion of your foreign travel per diem must be returned to the United States Treasury after you return home.
Judicial Watch filed letters of complaint with the Senate and House Ethics Committee on March 31, 2010 following a March 2, 2010, Wall Street Journal article documenting the per diem abuses by Members of Congress:
Congress has no system for tracking how the cash payments, called per diems, are being spent. Lawmakers aren't required to keep receipts and there are no public records. In the past two years, hundreds of lawmakers spent a total of 5,300 days visiting 130 foreign countries on taxpayer-funded trips, according to congressional travel records.
With regard to how Members of Congress may have misappropriated the funds, according to the article: "Sometimes they give it away; sometimes they pocket it. Many lawmakers said they didn't know the rules for repayment."
Former Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), The Wall Street Journal notes, admitted that it's "fairly standard" policy for lawmakers to use the leftover money "for shopping or to buy souvenirs to bring back to constituents."
As Judicial Watch argued in its letters of complaint, such behavior is seemingly in violation of explicit House and Senate rules governing the reimbursement of travel expenses. For example, according to Senate rules:
A per diem allowance provided a Member, officer, or employee in connection with foreign travel shall be used solely for lodging, food, and related expenses and it is the responsibility of the Member, officer, or employee receiving such an allowance to return to the United States Government that portion of the allowance received which is not actually used for necessary lodging, food, and related expenses.
"We are pleased that the Senate Ethics Committee has responded to our call to educate members on their responsibilities to the U.S. taxpayers and the rule of law regarding these per diems. It is a sad story that United States Senators need to be reminded that they can't keep taxpayer cash for their own personal use," said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. "It is obvious that members of the U.S. Senate have abused this process, and we believe a more thorough investigation is warranted. The Senate Ethics Committee shouldn't give a pass to members to misappropriated taxpayer funds."
To view the Senate Ethics Committee letters, visit www.judicialwatch.org.