In a segment on the December 1 editions of CNN's The Situation Room and Lou Dobbs Tonight, CNN national correspondent Bruce Morton misrepresented a report by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) that Vice President Dick Cheney has regularly exempted his office from official travel disclosure requirements. Morton left viewers with the false impression that Cheney and his aides have refrained from taking part in junkets regularly paid for by private sources. To the contrary, Cheney's office has participated in hundreds of these events and appearances but has refused to accept reimbursement for the trips -- which would require disclosing the details of each -- and instead has left taxpayers with the tab.
A recent study by CPI found that industry groups had paid millions of dollars since 1999 to send White House officials on special-interest junkets around the world. In his report on the CPI findings, Morton detailed the types of trips taken by officials in both the Bush and Clinton administrations. Then he stated: "Vice President Cheney reported no such travel. All his staffers' trips were apparently paid for by the taxpayer."
But Morton's assertion that Cheney "reported no such travel" and took only taxpayer-funded trips left the false impression that the vice president and his staff took only trips that are typically covered by taxpayer dollars and not the type of trips taken by their colleagues and predecessors that are ordinarily paid for by private entities. In fact, CPI found that Cheney's office took the same type of trips typically paid for by outside sources -- including travel for speeches at think tanks, trade organizations, and academic institutions -- but labeled them "official travel." In many cases, the organizers or sponsors offered to reimburse Cheney's travel expenses, but his office refused to accept payment.
Morton followed his statement that Cheney "reported no such travel" with a clip of CPI senior writer Bob Williams, who said: "Basically what you have with Mr. Cheney's office is, there's no disclosure, there is no way of really knowing where they went." But while this clip addressed the fact that Cheney's trips were exempt from disclosure, it ignored the central finding in the CPI study: that by refusing reimbursement, Cheney and his staffers were both avoiding disclosure of trips that would otherwise have been disclosed and were sticking taxpayers with the tab for those trips that would otherwise have been reimbursed. Therefore, it did not correct Morton's misrepresentation of the study.
A November 16 CPI press release explained the implications of the Office of the Vice President's policy of unilaterally exempting itself from the travel disclosure rules followed by the executive branch:
It's not as if those in Cheney's office don't indulge in the type of junkets that are routinely funded by private sources. Instead of accepting reimbursement for such trips like other government travelers, it appears that his office labels them "official travel." As a result, however, the public is kept largely unaware of where he and his staff are traveling, with whom they are meeting with [sic] and how much it costs, even though tax dollars are covering the bill.
CPI also detailed the extent of Cheney's travel since he took office in 2001. The organization described the hundreds of trips as representing "untold millions in travel costs":
Cheney's office also appears to have stuck taxpayers with untold millions in travel costs rather than accepting trip sponsors' funds that the rules would require to be disclosed.
According to the White House Web site, Cheney made 275 speeches and appearances between 2001 and June 1, 2005, including 23 speeches to think tanks and trade organizations and 16 at colleges and universities. Before his term in office, the cost associated with travel, lodging and food for the vice president and his staff to attend such events was routinely reimbursed by the sponsor and reported to the Office of Government Ethics, which collects and distributes travel disclosure reports for the executive branch per disclosure rules. During the Clinton administration, former Vice President Al Gore's office disclosed more than $1 million in outside-funded travel from 1997 to 2000.