Republican congressman Scott McInnis of Glenwood Springs is fond of criticizing his Washington colleagues--especially Denver's Pat Schroeder--for their taxpayer-supported travel. So last year, after running a re-election campaign based on reforming Washington, McInnis took a trip to South Korea and found a private interest to pick up the tab: the conservative Heritage Foundation. The Washington, D.C., think tank was so mindful of McInnis's education that it sent along its resident expert on Korean affairs, Daryl Plunk, who ushered McInnis between meetings with government bureaucrats and private-industry representatives for five days. It seemed like the perfect way to utilize private money and expertise to aid the U.S. Congress. Except for one thing: The Heritage Foundation isn't particularly unbiased on Korean matters.
Since returning, McInnis has introduced two pieces of legislation on Korea, calling for, among other things, a North-South Korea summit, nuclear facility inspections, expanded trade relations and a relocation of troops. He's also written newspaper editorials lambasting the accord the Clinton administration recently reached with the North Korean government--all of them, McInnis admits, crafted with the help of his Korean-affairs guru, Daryl Plunk.
Plunk's employer, meanwhile, gets a big chunk of its operating budget from South Korea. Cheryl Rubin, the Heritage Foundation's director of public relations, says that in the last three years, 5 percent of the think tank's funding--$3 million--came compliments of a single entity called the Korea Foundation. That organization is funded at least in part by the South Korean government. And, says Rubin, 16 percent of Heritage's major donors in the last fiscal year (those who've given more than $100,000) are either Korean or Taiwanese businessmen.
McInnis says he trusts the Heritage Foundation's opinion on South Korean issues, regardless of where its money comes from. "I take advice from people at several universities--including CU--on a variety of issues," says the congressman. "A lot of those universities are funded by people I don't particularly agree with. So what's the difference?"
Plenty, says Ellen Miller, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics. "The trips are favors which stick in the minds of members of Congress perhaps even more clearly than campaign contributions," she says. "In part because they're really something nice on a personal level, and in part because of the relationship built during [the time away]." As for the relationship between McInnis's Korea legislation and his travels with the Heritage Foundation, Miller has this to say: "It sounds like a direct conflict of interest. How would we ever know if he did or didn't do it because of the trip?"
McInnis freely acknowledges the visit's influence. "Traveling to Korea, where 42,000 American troops are stationed to protect the south against invasion from the north, and standing face-to-face with North Korean communist soldiers on the DMZ certainly did have an effect on my introducing legislation to reduce tensions there," he says.
And McInnis's support for South Korea hasn't just been legislative in nature. He also took a very public stand endorsing South Korea's ambassador for international trade, Kim Chul Su, as the U.S. choice to head the World Trade Organization, going so far as to circulate a "Dear Colleague" letter among his fellow congressmen to muster support.
McInnis (who despite his interest in Korean issues couldn't name the American ambassador to South Korea) takes issue with President Clinton's policy on everything from oil shipments to nuclear inspections to trade policy. "There needs to be more accountability," he says. Which, interestingly, is the Heritage Foundation's tag line on the issue.
In fact, the Heritage Foundation has traded compliments with McInnis on Korean affairs. Take a March 2, 1995, Washington Times op-ed piece written by, not surprisingly, Daryl Plunk. "The need for the administration to make a new World Trade Organization choice has not gone unnoticed on Capitol Hill," wrote Plunk, who went on to laud McInnis for drafting his letter in support of Kim Chul Su.
But while McInnis has had time to circulate letters, sponsor legislation and pen editorials on Korean issues, he's done little else this session. A review of the bills he's generated in the 104th Congress shows that since the November 1994 election, McInnis has sponsored five "Rules Committee" resolutions-- procedural bills that dictate how other bills are going to be debated--and introduced one piece of legislation providing for an exchange of land in Gilpin County. Which means McInnis has sponsored more substantive legislation on Korean issues than on any other single matter.
McInnis objects to the notion that he may be spending too much time on foreign affairs for a representative who does not sit on either the House Armed Services Committee or the Foreign Affairs Committee. "I used to chair the Republican Conference's research committee on Asian affairs," he says. (That informal research committee was disbanded in 1994, six months after McInnis returned from South Korea.)
McInnis, who insists that he spends "only about an hour a week on the Korean issue," says the Western Slope has plenty of international interests. "We've got the Aspen Institute," he says. "Kings from all over the world come there. There's a lot of foreign impact in the Third District."
And the congressman does seem to be broadening his international horizons. This October, he's planning a trip to Israel--compliments of the United Jewish Appeal.
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