Much is known about James Dennis' trip to Europe in the spring of 2003. The 10-day trip took the aide to Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., to Berlin, Geneva and London, where he discussed "international tax matters" with local officials. His transportation cost $7,700, his food $1,140, and his lodging $2,180.
But what is conspicuously absent from Dennis' travel disclosure form is the name of the organization that paid his $11,000 in expenses.
A Center for Public Integrity study of disclosure records for congressional officials' privately funded travel from January 2000 through June 2005 found that Dennis' form is one of roughly 130 with the line for the sponsor's name left blank. In effect, the omissions allowed special interests to spend more than $230,000 on travel anonymously.
The Center's analysis found that hundreds and perhaps thousands of disclosure documents filed over the 5½-year period were incomplete, illegible or late. While many of these documents were later amended to fill in the blanks, some remain unclear, obscuring the details of privately sponsored travel from the public's view.
Maria Najera, Bingaman's deputy press secretary, chalked up Dennis' omission to a simple mistake. Speaking on the aide's behalf, she said that he hadn't been aware that he had missed the line for the sponsor's name.
Such omissions are "a reflection that nobody was watching until now," according to Craig Holman of the watchdog group Public Citizen."The form was reviewed by the ethics committee," Najera said, "and he thought they would have notified him if there was anything missing."
"The Senate ethics and the House ethics committees were not making sure that these forms were being properly filled out," Holman said.
The travel disclosure forms are not archived online. Viewing them requires visiting the Senate Office of Public Records or the House Legislative Resource Center.