OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Since 1999, taxpayers have paid more than $187,000 for U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe to make at least 20 trips to Africa, records show.
The Oklahoman’s Washington bureau reviewed expense filings made through the Senate’s Armed Services Committee by the Republican senator and his staff, but some expenses couldn’t be determined.
For example, some of the trips - which Inhofe has used religious terms to describe - came on military planes, and the military does not disclose how much it costs to fly congressional members on trips. But on trips in which Inhofe reported travel costs, airfare ranged from $4,727 to travel to Ghana, Kenya and Benin in 2002, to $7,200 to visit Ethiopia, Uganda and Italy.
Inhofe’s trips have covered much of Africa, although he has spent most of his time in Uganda and Ethiopia. His most recent trip to the continent came earlier this month, when Inhofe and three U.S. House members went to both those countries to discuss AIDS with their leaders.
Inhofe has said he likely has visited Africa more than any other U.S. Senate member ever, and when he travels there, he always takes staff members with him and sometimes his wife. He usually also travels with other congressional members.
“I’m trying to recruit people to have an interest in Africa,” he said. “I’m trying to get members of the House and Senate to understand how valuable Africa is.”
His focus on the trips, he said, are on humanitarian, national security and economic issues, although some trips also have involved activities related to a religious organization, the Fellowship Foundation, that puts on the National Prayer Breakfast.
He said he personally funded his first trip to Africa in 1998. Inhofe’s frequent foreign travels aren’t unique to Congress, as numerous lawmakers take “fact-finding” trips paid for by taxpayers.
“I’m guilty of two things,” Inhofe said. “I’m a Jesus guy, and I have a heart for Africa.”
Inhofe said his travels have been encouraged by the military and the State Department, which referred questions about the senator’s trips to his office.
He said there is little interest about Africa among members of Congress. Chairmen of the House and Senate subcommittees charged with following African issues wouldn’t respond to that comment.
Charles Ssentongo, the deputy chief of mission at the Ugandan Embassy in Washington, praised Inhofe for taking an interest in Africa and said other members of Congress also showed support for the continent.
Ssentongo called Inhofe “a good friend of Africa and Uganda in particular. Senator Inhofe has been one of the leading voices on the various issues facing our continent.”
He said Inhofe has “played an active role in the faith-based aspect of our anti-AIDS campaign.”
Inhofe has made no secret about his religious faith playing a role in his interest in Africa.
“I have had a mission there for many years,” he said during a U.S. House committee hearing in 2005. “It is more of a Jesus thing, but I have spent a lot of time in Africa.”