Saturday, March 04, 2006

DC Junket Update

I commented in December on the amount of money DC spends sending its employees on various junkets. Now Mayor Williams is trying to raise over $2 million for a corporate-sponsored junket to Africa:

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams is asking corporate sponsors to pay as much as $40,000 apiece to underwrite his first official trip to Africa, a 19-day "trade and cultural exchange mission" with stops in South Africa, Ghana and Senegal.

In a January letter to prospective donors, the mayor said he hopes to assemble a delegation of 55 "leaders from business, industry, labor and the community" for the mission, which is scheduled for May 3 through May 21.

Highlights include accommodations at four- and five-star hotels, weekend visits to tourist attractions and a two-night side trip to a South African game park, where some in the delegation would stay in a "super luxury safari camp" with tents renting for up to $975 per person per night.

The timing trip could be an embarrasment to the District, both for practical and political reasons:

...the trip falls in the middle of Williams's final year in office, when he pledged that he would cut down on travel and devote himself to completing priority development projects at home. It also gives fresh ammunition to government watchdogs who have repeatedly criticized Williams for soliciting private donations for official travel.

"If you think the lobbying scandal on Capitol Hill stinks, you should look at the dearth of legislation or regulations we have in the District regarding the activities of lobbyists," said Dorothy Brizill, executive director of DCWatch, a nonprofit organization that monitors District government. "Especially where the mayor's trips are involved, they literally go cup in hand to lobbyists and ask for contributions. . . . It's the same situation. The office is for sale."

The trip will also require councilman Jack Evans, chairman of the council's finance and revenue committee, to miss a critical budget vote.

Mayor Williams is on weaker ground than the often-criticized traveling Congressmen. Congressmen needs to keep informed on issues of foreign affairs and international trade because of their offices. Mayors do not.

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