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Rep. Richard Pombo, feathering his own nest

Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) chose an interesting way to start as chairman of the House Interior Committee: by taking his family on a taxpayer-funded RV adventure to some of America’s most beautiful national parks.

Rep. Pombo has already distinguished himself as a notable practitioner of the sleazy, self-serving political maneuvering that makes it difficult to think about Congress on a full stomach. As outlined in our Hall of Shame Pombo has intervened in federal regulatory matters when his family’s income might be affected, and he paid his wife and brother more than a quarter-million dollars out of his campaign treasury in 2003 and 2004, in some cases for unspecified duties. He also ranks 8th on the list of members taking money from admitted felon and former Republican super lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and he has gone to bat for clients of “Team Abramoff” – even when those clients happened to be on the other side of the country from his congressional district.

The latest allegations, reported in the Los Angeles Times , focus on a trip he took in 2003 after becoming chairman of the influential Interior committee. The official purpose of the trip was to visit parks under his jurisdiction and speak with federal officials there. And what better way to do that than by renting a $4,935 RV at taxpayer expense and taking your family along?

Pombo’s spokesman said the trip lasted 10-12 days, and ran through five states and ten national parks, where his staff set up meetings with local park officials. A funny thing happened on the way to the forest, though – apparently Pombo didn’t always make it there. "We had set up camping for him and gone to a lot of work, and then he did not show," said Pam Livermont, secretary for the park superintendent at Badlands National Park in South Dakota. “We never heard another word from him. We were disappointed." Same thing from officials at Joshua Tree National Park in southern California, although in their (lame, if you ask us) defense, Pombo’s staff said their boss showed for the meeting but park officials “weren’t there.” Did anyone mount a search party?

For good measure, on a separate issue two Democratic House members are accusing Pombo of "questionable use of a significant amount of taxpayer funds," for allowing his committee staff director to live in Stockton, Calif. and charge taxpayers $87,000 for commuting to Washington… with none of the expenses properly reported.

Steve Filson, a Democrat running for Pombo’s seat in this fall’s congressional election, has asked the House Administration Committee to investigate the family vacation. If that panel finds a problem, it could refer the matter to the House ethics committee. Given that the House Administration committee was until very recently run by Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who was forced to step down from that position after he was identified as “Representative #1” in the Abramoff indictments, and that the ethics committee has been moribund for more than a year, we’re not holding our breath for any action.

But in the meantime, Pombo is more than justifying his induction into our Hall of Shame. Keep at it, Mr. Pombo, and you might even earn bonus points!

-Gordon Clark