House to Begin Posting Representatives' Expense Reports Online

This is going to be fun. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered Congress on Wednesday to begin filing representatives' expense reports online. Until now, you had to sort through stacks of paper records to find out how members of Congress spent money.

When The Wall Street Journal looked into the issue, it found that lawmakers spent a lot of money on rent, travel, mail and such. But, the paper said that "House and Senate lawmakers receive annual allowances of $1.3 million to $4.5 million to run their offices. All the expenditures reviewed by the Journal were legal, and the disclosures complied with congressional rules."

In a related article, the Journal looked at what some lawmakers' have billed taxpayers for:

"Florida Rep. Alcee Hastings spent $24,730 in taxpayer money last year to lease a 2008 luxury Lexus hybrid sedan. Ohio Rep. Michael Turner expensed a $1,435 digital camera. Eni Faleomavaega, the House delegate from American Samoa, bought two 46-inch Sony TVs.

"...Around 100 lawmakers lease cars using their official allowances. The majority lease American cars. Sport-utility vehicles, such as Ford Escapes and Chevy Tahoes, are among the most popular choices.

"The fourth-quarter congressional expense records, bound in three thick beige-colored volumes, show that Rep. Rodney Alexander of Louisiana paid $20,000 for a 2009 lease on a Toyota Highlander, a hybrid SUV. Mr. Alexander said in an interview that the vehicle was for his state director's official business. The Highlander was appropriate, he said, given the size of his district and House rules setting fuel-efficiency standards for leased vehicles. 'We have a large district, the largest in Louisiana," he said. "We didn't want to lease a bicycle for him to ride on.'

"Other expenses included five-figure printing bills. Rahm Emanuel, who resigned from his Illinois congressional seat in January to become President Barack Obama's chief of staff, recorded a $33,000 printing expense in the fourth quarter. An aide to Mr. Emanuel said it was for an official mailing sent to every household in his district.

"The records show several examples of spending on high-end electronics.

"Rep. William Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat, spent $2,793 on a Panasonic Toughbook laptop, which is marketed to the military, in September, about three months before he lost his re-election bid in a December runoff. A lawyer for Mr. Jefferson, who is facing an unrelated federal bribery trial, declined to comment."

You can, of course, take a look at some spending records that come from campaign funds. Go to, look up a member and click on the expenditures button.

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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