SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, ran up a $24,805 tab traveling with his wife to Australia last November. Meals and hotels added another $4,500 to the bill.
Matheson revealed the trip, which started four days after his election to a third term, after mistakenly believing it was paid for by the Australian government and would not have required disclosure.
As it turns out, Matheson's expenses were paid by the American Australian Association, an organization funded by businesses engaged in trade between the two countries.
Congressional rules allow trade groups to sponsor travel by members of Congress, but Matheson was supposed to have reported the trip within 30 days of his departure.
"We mistakenly assumed this was a government-to-government thing," Matheson told The Salt Lake Tribune in a story published Thursday. "Travel questions came up and I said we should make sure this is filed accurately. We took advice in the wrong way last summer."
It's one of the most expensive trips reported by any congressman, but records compiled by Politicalmoneyline.com show Matheson trails Utah Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch in the travel department.
Bennett lead Utah's delegation by accepting $43,348 for 13 trips since 2000, according to the Web site that tracks congressional travel reports. Bennett is away on another trip, to Turkey for a conference on U.S. foreign policy and the Islamic world, paid for by the Aspen Institute, which has picked up the bill for many of his trips.
Hatch took the most trips of the delegation: 38 at a cost of $37,879, according to disclosures.
Members of Congress are scrambling to update their travel reports in the wake of questions about Majority Leader Tom DeLay's trips abroad and how they were paid for. During May, 30 senators and representatives revealed previously undisclosed travel.
Congressional ethics rules bar lobbying firms from paying for lawmakers' travel, but they can accept trips funded by companies, trade groups and nonprofit organizations as long as they disclose it.
"The world is getting smaller and smaller every day," Matheson said. "Members of Congress need to have an understanding of what's going on in the world."
University of Utah political scientist Tim Chambless said he finds nothing wrong with members of Congress accepting travel perks that don't cost taxpayers anything.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)