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House Extends Alcee Hastings Travel Probe

November 16, 2010 - 6:00pm

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings is the subject of a stepped-up investigation into alleged misuse of travel funds on overseas trips.

The Miramar Democrat, a former impeached judge, is the third member of the Congressional Black Caucus currently under scrutiny for financial dealings.

This week, a House ethics panel found Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., guilty of 11 violations over his failure to report assets and his abuse of congressional privileges.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., faces disciplinary proceedings on charges she improperly tried to steer government aid to a bank in which her husband owned stock.

Hastings' case goes back several years and tens of thousands of miles.

According to a Wall Street Journal investigation, which sparked the House probe, Hastings and five other lawmakers allegedly used daily cash stipends, meant to cover certain travel costs, for unauthorized expenses.

In Hastings' case, he paid unspecified sums for drinks and gifts for people who traveled with him.

Hastings -- like Rangel, Waters and his colleagues caught up in the travel investigation -- pleads innocence.

"I'm a generous soul," he told reporters when the allegations surfaced last year.

But the ongoing House investigation, which the Journal says has "intensified," suggests a less benign side to the veteran congressman's actions.

For nearly two decades, Hastings has been a frequent flier across the globe, conducting what was purported to be official business. One of his European jaunts included an international conference on "racism."

Through 2005, Hastings billed the government $152,378 for overseas travel, ranking him second in the House during the previous decade, according to a report compiled by Political Money Line. That dollar amount, which does not include costs for staff or use of military aircraft, covered 57 trips to 116 countries.

On one three-day mission to Belgium in 2004 with legislative assistant Vanessa Griddine, Hastings spent $14,193 at taxpayer expense, according to Political Money Line.

Beyond reimbursements for bona fide travel expenses, members of Congress receive per diems that supposedly are restricted to meals, ground transportation and other actual costs of trips.

But, as the Journal reported, many of the traveling lawmakers' meals and expenses are picked up by others, such as foreign government officials or U.S. ambassadors. That can leave lawmakers with leftover money, which they use for gifts, shopping, spousal expenses, etc.

If House investigators determine that the 74-year-old Hastings played fast and loose with funds, it wouldn't be the first time.

Hastings, a former U.S. District judge, was impeached by the House of Representatives on corruption charges in 1989. Though acquitted in a criminal trial, Hastings' conviction by the U.S. Senate resulted in his removal from the bench.

After the Florida Legislature created the heavily African-American 23rd Congressional District in 1992, Hastings ran for the seat and has won 10 consecutive elections there with only token opposition.

Discussing the House Ethics Committee's travel investigation on Wednesday, Hastings said, "I have complied actively and intend to continue to do so. I've given (investigators) exhaustive details and even more in an effort to get them to understand we basically have an institutional problem."

Indicating possible gray areas in the handling and accounting of travel funds, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently tweaked the rules to clarify that congressmen should return excess funds.

Hastings told Sunshine State News that he believes ethics investigators have merely extended their timetable by 45 days, not deepened their probe.

"They have a number of matters to deal with," Hastings said, alluding to the Rangel and Waters matters. "They just haven't gotten around to this kind of minutiae. They didn't expand the investigation, they just extended it."

The ethics panel says it will announce a course of action by Dec. 20.

Like fellow CBCers Rangel and Waters, the flamboyant Hastings has had his moments in the spotlight.

At the height of Democratic Party power in Congress last year, Hastings played a hubristic role in the passage of President Barack Obama's health-care legislation.

Bellowing from his seat on the House Rules Committee, Hastings blurted:

"There ain't no rules here, we're trying to accomplish something. ... All this talk about rules. ... we make 'em up as we go along," he said.


Contact Kenric Ward at or at (772) 801-5341.

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