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The Associated Press State & Local Wire


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August 20, 2005, Saturday, BC cycle


SECTION: State and Regional

LENGTH: 579 words

HEADLINE: Public pays tab for congressional vehicle use

DATELINE: OKLAHOMA CITY

BODY:
Two members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation are taking advantage of House rules that allow them to lease or rent vehicles for official business in the state rather than use personal vehicles and be reimbursed for mileage.

Rep. John Sullivan, R-Okla., is leasing a sport utility vehicle in his district for $1,242 a month at taxpayer expense, The Oklahoman reported from its Washington bureau.

Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., rented a car in Oklahoma City in December and paid more than $1,500 for it out of his congressional office account.

House rules permit members to lease or rent vehicles or submit reimbursement claims for mileage on personal cars. Congressional staff members also can rent cars while on officials business or get reimbursed for mileage on personal cars.

The House reimbursement rate for mileage on personal cars is .405 cents per mile.

House records of expenses in congressional offices show that Sullivan, of Tulsa, has leased a Chevrolet Suburban and Lucas, of Cheyenne, rents a car whenever he is in Oklahoma.

Reports covering Jan. 1 through March 31 shows Sullivan's office made three monthly payments of $1,242 each to GMAC. No other Oklahoma House member has taxpayer-funded lease agreements for vehicles.

Sullivan's chief of staff, Elizabeth Bartheld, said the method a lawmaker uses for in-state travel is "really a choice each office has to make." In Sullivan's case, leasing a vehicle is "cleaner" than keeping track of mileage and submitting reimbursement claims, she said.

But at the current mileage reimbursement rate, Sullivan would have to drive 3,067 miles a month in a personal car to match the $1,242 price tag of the leased vehicle.

Sullivan's 1st Congressional District is fairly compact, the vehicle must be used almost exclusively for official business and lawmakers are in Washington the majority of most months.

Bartheld said the lease is more expensive than the typical one because it must be of short duration and members cannot put money down on it. Tulsa-based members of Sullivan's staff also use the vehicle, saving on personal car mileage reimbursements, she said.

House rules also allow for the government to pay for insurance, gas, maintenance and property tax on leased vehicles.

With Congress in recess most of December, Lucas rented a car when he returned to Oklahoma City from Washington on Dec. 9. He returned the car on Jan. 2. House documents show there were two payments, one for $942 and another for $613 to the rental car agency.

Lucas rents a car when he's in Oklahoma because "it's the most economical way of doing it" on a yearly basis, according to Jim Luetkemeyer, Lucas' press secretary.

Lucas lives about 150 miles from the Oklahoma City airport and his 3rd Congressional District includes 32 counties, so his mileage would likely exceed the allowed miles on a leased vehicle, Luetkemeyer said.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said he regularly uses his own car on short trips in his 4th Congressional District. On longer trips, Cole, of Moore, usually rides with a staff member who then claims the mileage reimbursement, he said.

Federal Election Commission records show that Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., pays $492 a month out of campaign funds for a vehicle. FEC guidelines allow vehicles paid for with campaign funds to be used for campaign activity or official business.

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Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obtaining the Data

Casteel says that he got the data from looking at House records of representativesí personal expenditures. For that, one would have to directly to Congress. The House of Representatives website does not list such information. Information on campaign expenditures is available online, however. One can find most any relevant campaign expenditure information on the website of the Federal Election Commission.

 

This is an easier assignment for a reporter than one would think. Congressmen are bound by law to disclose their receipts and expenditures. In this case, at least, they abide by those laws.