News: CJ Exclusives

Butterfield Dined, Lodged in Copenhagen on Taxpayers’ Dime

Expense report shows N.C. congressman spent $4,406 at luxury hotel

Taxpayers paid a heavy price for the failed climate-change talks in Denmark last month, according to newly released reports detailing a half-million dollars in travel expenses for lawmakers and experts to attend.

Part of those included $4,406 for North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-1st, for food and lodging at the five-star Copenhagen Marriott Hotel. Butterfield, who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was one of 23 congressmen to attend the summit.

Global warming activists hoped the talks, sponsored by the United Nations, would spur an international agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, world leaders approved a nonbinding declaration on climate change decried by environmentalists as too tame.

In a statement e-mailed to Carolina Journal, Butterfield said that lawmakers weren’t aware of the costs prior to the trip and that House leaders made the travel arrangements.

“Members have since been told that the seemingly high cost of lodging was the result of the hotel requiring a minimum of six nights, totaling $3,960 per room,” Butterfield said. “We have also been told that delegations were assigned to specific hotels by conference organizers, and that delegations from around the world had the same issue with hotel requirements.”

David Williams, vice president of public policy for Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington-based watchdog organization, said in a telephone interview that he could book airfare and lodging in Copenhagen online for much less than House leaders negotiated.

“It’s ludicrous to think that a semi-intelligent person, which I’m assuming members of Congress are, couldn’t pay the same thing,” he said.

Williams added that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should have released more detailed copies of the travel reports. CAGW had the same beef with congressional disbursements for the third quarter published online in November that contained vague line-item descriptions.

“It’s a great start to see the dollar amount, but let’s see the details of the expenditures,” he said.

The documentation provided by Pelosi’s office shows (PDF download) a total of $553,564 in travel expenses for 61 representatives and experts. The list includes Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. In total, the group of two dozen lawmakers spent $101,338 on lodging and dining.

The cost for the entire U.S. delegation to attend, though, was much higher. CBS News found that 59 House and Senate staffers flew commercial to Copenhagen, totaling $408,064.

“Add three military jets — $168,351 just for flight time — and the bill tops $1.1 million — not including all the Obama administration officials who attended: well over 60,” CBS reported.

In his statement, Butterfield indicated that leaders made important progress during the summit. “While the conference fell short of the goal of producing a binding international treaty,” he said, “it did succeed in achieving a framework for curbing greenhouse gases, verifying countries’ emissions, preserving rain forests, shielding vulnerable countries from the impacts of climate change, and for sharing costs.”

But Williams said that attendees didn’t accomplish anything. “You had some staffers who were there 10 or 11 days,” he said. “There was no reason to send these many people, regardless of what you believe about climate change.”

David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.