Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

Taxpayers, campaign fund, Obama's own money pay for trip


NAIROBI, Kenya -- The African journeys of Sen. Barack Obama are paid for by U.S. taxpayers who foot the bills for hotels, food, ground transportation, commercial plane rides, military aircraft put at his disposal and Navy escorts who accompany him wherever he goes.

The unusual amount of publicity surrounding Obama's trip to South Africa, Kenya, Djibouti and Chad has raised a number of questions from readers about how all this travel is financed.

Congressional international travel is routine. There are two ways most of the trips are paid for: by taxpayers on trips that are considered official House or Senate business and by private interests, be they corporations, trade associations, nonprofits or academic institutions.

Members of Congress have to disclose the sponsors of private trips and the costs for which they have been reimbursed. Earlier this year, in the wake of scandals over privately funded travel, the House and Senate briefly considered a ban in the context of lobbying and ethics reform legislation. House GOP leaders installed a temporary private travel ban to get them through the November elections.

Obama is on official government business. Here's a primer on how it works:

•Obama is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He applied for and received approval for the trip from the committee chairman, Sen. Richard Lugar.

Lugar wrote the Department of Defense and the State Department asking them to provide support for the travel. In congressional parlance, this type of trip is called a CODEL -- short for congressional delegation.

•Senate rules allow Obama to bring along at government expense one staffer -- and that's Mark Lippert, his foreign relations adviser.

•Federal Election Commission rules allow the use of campaign funds to cover costs of official business not paid for by the government. The costs for Robert Gibbs, who wears two hats as a government and political spokesman for Obama, are paid for by the Obama 2010 campaign fund.

•Obama's wife and two daughters flew from Chicago to Nairobi. Gibbs said Obama is picking up the costs personally.

•The State Department has a budget that covers expenses related to congressional travel, including money a U.S. embassy spends to assist the member of Congress in the country. That covers vehicles, travel, security and related expenses.

•The Defense Department then authorizes the military to provide support and escort services. For CODEL OBAMA (the official name of this congressional trip), that includes the use of Army aircraft and the services of two Navy officers, Lt. Devere J. Crooks and Cmdr. Douglas Edson, who help coordinate the visit.

In addition, Obama invited a two-star Air Force general who is an African expert to accompany him.

The Swahili-speaking major general, Scott Gration, is a native of St. Charles, Ill., and spent much of his youth in Africa. His parents live in Wheaton and his father is a retired professor at Wheaton College.

•Obama flew to Cape Town, South Africa, on a KLM flight with Lippert and Gibbs. The Senate allows business class travel, which on some airlines, such as KLM, is really first class.

Gration and the Navy officers, operating under more spartan Defense Department guidelines, flew in coach.


Who distributed and who is paying for all of the flags with Obama's name and picture on it, that the locals were waiving when Obama arrived? What is the estimated total cost to taxpayers for this trip? These are questions that should be asked.

*re flags. there were local organizing committees.

Why is it whenever a black politician goes to Africa reporters feel the need to report that they did it with taxpayer money? All politicians travel on our dime. It was government business not vacation. Thank you for explaining this to people

We pay this guy to do nothing in the senate. We pay this guy to do nothing but travel. We is senator diety going to ever do something, lower gas , defeat terror, clean up chicago corruption! Do anything!

i can't believe one cent of taxpayer money is being spent on barry's politcal grooming trip. how does what's going on in africa have to do with the state of illinois business? and why are we spending MY MONEY on barry's "sentimental journey" i want a reciept! so i at least know what i paid for. when most politicians steal and fill thier families and friends pockets they're smart enough to give a little something back ( roads, a park , etc. )what exacty am i getting for my money here?

To all the people who are outraged over “your tax dollars��? being spent on this trip, I would assume you were be EQUALLY outraged with Daley and various other politicians from both parties used “your tax dollars��? for their to trips to China(a communist country) and other foreign countries. It happens all the time without a peep out you “you outraged tax payers��?. Give me a break, politicians travel to foreign countries all the time but now that Senator Obama has traveled to Africa, there’s now a problem. I’m glad he traveled to Africa, which has long been ignored by our government.

Why is it whenever it is a black politician, you require an explaintion? Congress members travel all the time, in risky situations. Africa has more natural resources than any other land in the world. It is the largest continent, home to more than 50-countries. It would be foolish to continue to ignore it's importance and Obama, bless him, recognizes this. We must begin to establish trade, businesses and self-sustaining activities to some of the poorest people in the world. But, alas, racism rear's it's ugly head again, and people can't see the value in a trip to Africa. Shame on you for not doing your homework and blasting a courageous trip by a historical figure. I hope this is the beginning of a bright future for the birthplace of mankind.

Where was the outrage when we found out the do nothing Congress used tax payers money oh right it was the Republicans who did that. No tax payers money should be used by Republican or Democrats for trips. The money should of been used to stop cuts to Veterans,Education,Poor and Health Care. But I know that will be called a lefty idea even that I am Republican. But not a right wing nut case

Ok explain these Antonin Scalia had 24 expence paid trips. Justice Anthony M.Kennedy had 15 expence paid trips. Both side use your money know off the bull and stop our money from being used by both sides

oh ,here we go! every time a black person is criticized,it's what about what whitety did.or somebody called me the N word. just once deal with the issue at hand.i expect all politicians to get what they can and make US all of US pay for it. all i ask is that WE get something for OUR MONEY !

Come on Dee Dee. Why is it that any criticism of black leaders only comes from 'racism'. White pols have been called out about wasted travel trips for years. Also, Africa will never see 'a bright future' till all of its despot rulers are eliminated. Unfortunately the only time black leaders in the states ever got involved in the problems of Africa was when the whites ruled Rhodesia and South Africa. Murderous black leaders like Mugabe in Zimbabe are given a pass to do what they want.

My Congressman, a prominent (and white) Republican, visited Kenya on an information-gathering tour last spring, gaining little attention and absolutely no vitriol from anybody for doing so, though he is not universally admired in his district. It's time we faced the fact that people in Congress do go to Africa from time to time. It's a large and important continent. Why shouldn't they?

Senator Obama has become a symbol of hope to many Africans and to people of African descent, who see him as a person of accomplishment who is proud of his African heritage. He has also become a symbol of hope to others, a symbol of the American ideal of unity,
expressed with a youthfully energetic flair.

At this stage in his career, he has gained a sizeable audience, a "bully pulpit".

It is up to him what he will do now. Politicians often try hard to create public images, but when those images turn out to be artificial, the people who elected them are let down. What people really want from politicians is
honesty, transparency, having the courage of one's convictions. Time will yet tell if Senator Obama is a man more of image or of substance. All of us have the right and the duty to hope for the victory of substance over image.

I'm not so much curious when a politician, such as Sen. Obama, goes overseas or within our borders. We taxpayers pay whether we like it or not. But Ms. Sweet, who pays for all of Jesse Jackson's countless trips all over the world and within America? I don't know about overseas but I've read where he and his entourage stay at the absolute most expensive hotels. Is that real the right thing knowing he had to lay-off many Operation PUSH employees in the recent past and couldn't the needy use some of that extra money being used on expensive trips and living accomadations.

Dale why is every Republican a right wing nut to you? I think you a left wing nut!

Excellent point, "Chelangat," I do fear that we expect too much from the freshman senator from Illinois who was 99th in seniority when he went to the hill.

Obama is gearing up for a future career in politics; being on powerful and influential committees, perhaps assembling a power bloc of young enthusiastic Democrats for his party. Chances are that if he ever goes for higher office, he will point to trips like this to show his foreign relations credentials.

As for some bloggers asking why Obama's trip has gained such scrutiny and their opponents who say they are simply crying racism, I would point out that most don't know how a bureaucracy truly works. They need only look at a story released today (8/30) about Prez Bush's campaign trips.

Those trips, which have nothing to do with public business, are paid for by taxpayers.

The AP writer who penned that story added that it would likely go on because neither party wants to change that dynamic.

...makes ya think.

If someone like Senator Dick Lugar who is as straight-arrow as they come gave his ok, then I don't see anything to carp about with taxpayer funding of Obama's trip.

I'm fed up with all politician's wasting our hard earned tax dollar's.Many people agree there should be more accountablity as to exactly where our tax dollar's are being allocated.Let's demand better oversight of our local and federal government.I've started a petition to make our voice's heard.Won't you please take a few moment's of your time to read and sign it.

John reread the post its said both sides. Or do you just rant with no facts. Your just adding fuel to the fire and proving you do not have this Country best interests at heart. Wake up pal your going to lose it soon

I would like to see Obama's final report detailing the benefit of this trip to the U.S. taxpayer. Oh, and by the way - filing it up with photographs of one's family doesn't count.

John dont worry we have all come to the assumption that Dale is insane!

If someone with Obama's high profile went to Africa twentyfive years ago, who knows, AIDS might have been contained on that continent and never have spread to the US and the rest of the world.

We the people we need to be objective when judging these politician. Mr Obama spent not more than One hour with the grand ma.This mean, the trip was not for the family reunion but a visit with a purpose. I now remind you of the great words of Dr. Martin Luther Jr 'judge by the content of my character but not the colour of the skin'. Am a white my self my free advice to fellow country men let's not make the mistake we made in 1963 over Dr L and 1983 Abraham l on signing Emanicipation proclamation.

Hooray for Senator Obama!
This trip will eventually benefit our country. Africa has lots of natural resources. His trip brought light to the problems and showed African people in a positive light; unlike the stereotypes revealed to us.

I find it incredible when people complain about taxdollars! I wish people could wake up and be more open minded, Obama is doing this for the good of those people in Africa who have been ignored for years. Everyone is complaining about those taxdollars but what about the money Bush is pumping into a war that should have been over. Do you know how many taxpayers dollars it cost to house and feed the troops over seas? How many guns, ammunition, etc.Stop complaining and do something!

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Admin published on August 28, 2006 11:51 AM.

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