FOX 5 Investigates: Cars For Congress - Mid-South News, Weather, Traffic and Sports | FOX13

FOX 5 Investigates: Cars For Congress

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As members of Congress rush from one news conference to another to tell us why we have to cut the spending and raise the debt ceiling, we wondered…

What is Congress willing to sacrifice? Especially when it comes to how they transport themselves to all those news conferences.

FOX 5 has found Congress is rolling high-end SUVs, some leased from luxury companies like Lexus and Cadillac, all paid for by you - the taxpayer.

Our investigation uncovered at least 90 members of the U.S. House of Representatives use federal money to pay for automobile leases.

(Click here to see if your representative leased a car on your dime)

The U.S. Senate outlawed using government money to pay for personal cars.

But in the House, we found a diverse variety of Republicans and Democrats, high-ranking veterans and Tea Party freshmen taking advantage of a perk that can cost as much as $1,400 a month per vehicle.

KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA)
As Majority Whip, Kevin McCarthy is the third-highest ranking Republican on the Hill and has spent the last week calling news conferences demanding budget cuts in return for raising the debt ceiling.

But what he never seems to mention is you are paying $773 a month for his 2011 Lincoln Hybrid MKZ.

A spokeswoman confirmed he also spent $2,478.49 earlier this year for “excess mileage, wear and tear on the previous term’s vehicle lease” of a 2009 Ford Escape.

DAVID DREIER (R-CA)
David Dreier is another high-ranking Republican veteran who likes to stand behind McCarthy during these news conferences. Federal records show you spend $598 a month on his vehicle lease, but his congressional office did not respond to our phone calls, emails or visits to his personal office to find out details of the vehicle or why Dreier needs it.

MARY BONO MACK (R-CA)
Mary Bono Mack is another California Republican often found standing next to McCarthy at his news conferences. She went with McCarthy to the White House and stood behind him during his debt ceiling presser on the White House lawn. Records show she spends $749 a month on her lease. Her office also did not respond to our phone calls, emails or personal visits to her office.

Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) doesn’t lease a car. He went to the House floor this week calling on his colleagues to give up their cars.

He sat down with FOX 5 in his Congressional office to explain why he’s fed up with the vehicle leases.

“Look, if we’re serious about balancing the budget, we know the car loan doesn’t get us there,” he explained. “But to have the moral standing to make the tougher cuts, members of Congress need to give up some of their perks.”

He says members pay for the cars out of their office budgets and he thinks the money can be spent in better ways.

"If you do have a car, you generally have that instead of, for instance, another staff person to help your constituents with their social security or their veterans’ benefits," he said.

In total, Congress has spent almost half a million dollars on car leases in just the first three months of this year.

Our FOX 5 analysis found both Republicans and Democrats take advantage of the perk. Republicans spend more than Democrats, but there are actually more Democrats leasing cars then Republicans.

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D – DC)
Eleanor Holmes Norton didn’t want to talk on camera about the Toyota hybrid that costs you $552 a month. Her office did not respond to more than a dozen emails and phone calls asking why she needed the vehicle.

No one wanted to answer our questions on camera as we went from one Congressional office to another seeking answers about why Congress thinks it needs these cars.

RODNEY ALEXANDER (R – LA)

Including Louisiana’s Rodney Alexander, one of the biggest spenders. In just three months, he spent $26,334 on a Toyota Highlander hybrid. He only pays $167 a month on the lease, but his spokeswoman explained he paid a $20,000 “down payment which came from unused 2010 funds.” He also paid $5,806 for “extra mileage” so a “prior lease could be closed.”
CHIP CRAVAACK (R – MN)
Chip Cravaack is a Tea Party favorite elected to Congress this year after promising to drastically cut spending. But records show Cravaack started using taxpayer money to pay for his car less than two months after taking office. A spokesman says Cravaack’s Chevy Equinox costs $1,000 a month.

PEDRO PIERLUISI (D – PR)
The biggest monthly bill belongs to Puerto Rico’s Pedro Pierluisi. $1,400 a month for his 2008 GMC Yukon Hybrid.

Pierluisi is the only member of Congress we contacted willing to talk to us on camera. He says, “The way it works in Puerto Rico is when you lease a car, they are giving you maintenance, as well as insurance, included in the payment. So that makes it more expensive.”

Pierluisi says he needs the SUV for his job.

"I use the car to travel throughout the island, visit my communities,” he said. “I represent 3.7 million citizens down there, so this is something that is very valuable to my job."

Pierluisi says he will give up the SUV if leadership changes the rules, which allow members to use the cars for both business and personal reasons.

Speaking of leadership, neither Speaker of the House John Boehner nor Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi lease a vehicle, according to their personal office expense reports.

But, buried in a massive 3,283 page expense report, FOX 5 found on page 3008, 12 “miscellaneous” automobile leases ranging from $935 to $1,199 a month.

A congressional source later told FOX 5 they are SUVs used by Boehner, Pelosi and other high-ranking leaders.

“They should own their own vehicles.”

It didn’t matter if they’re Republican or a Democrat…

“We shouldn’t be paying for it, no.”

All of these visitors at the Capitol told us the same thing.

If Congress doesn’t give up the cars…

“If they’re making choices like that, we need to take a good look at them.”

These taxpayers say they will make sure they lose them in the next election.

EDITORS NOTE: A previous version of the 90 member list incorrectly stated Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) has a car lease. She does not. The amounts listed by her name should have been listed next to Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA). The list has since been corrected.


 

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