Aug 06, 2008

The White House is apparently a heavenly place to pick up some free travel, courtesy of religious lobbying groups.

According to a recent article in The Hill, White House travel records show that churches and other religious entities paid for close to a quarter of the privately funded trips taken by White House aides since late 2006.

Reporters Rebecca Brown and Kevin Bogardus found that at least 24 trips for President Bush's staff members were paid for by churches or other religious groups. Faith-based organizations, The Hill said, paid for the most travel in the time period, followed by universities and think tanks, which paid for 15 trips each.

Former White House aide Tim Goeglein was the most frequent gadabout. The newspaper said he took 23 trips worth more than $23,000. Goeglein, a crony of Karl Rove, was Bush's liaison with the Religious Right.

Among Goeglein's stops: a February 2007 visit to tony Amelia Island, Fla., to speak to the shadowy Council for National Policy (CNP). The secretive CNP holds regular meetings around the country for Religious Right leaders and other ultra-conservative fat cats to scheme and dream. (Bush gave a speech to the CNP in San Antonio in 1999 that converted the hard right theocrats into faithful supporters of his election. To this day, no one knows what he promised them behind those closed doors.)

Another Goeglein stop: the 2007 convention of the National Religious Broadcasters, the umbrella group for mega-bucks TV preachers and other influential religious broadcasters. NRB leaders have been among the most faithful backers of President Bush, supporting him for election in 2000 and reelection in 2004.

NRB Senior Vice President Craig Parshall told The Hill the Goeglein visit was all on the up and up.

"People of faith make up a crucial American demographic," said Parshall. "Frankly, we would think it rather odd if an administration neglected religious groups in its sphere of contacts."

But the issue isn't including religious groups in the Bush "sphere of contacts." Rather, it's the overly tight political and financial connection between theocracy-minded sectarian interest groups and our government.

There hasn't been much separation of church and state during the Bush administration, and this story in The Hill shows why. White House staffers and Religious Right lobbyists are singing from the same hymnal, and the Religious Right often picks up the tab.

The Hill said Goeglein did not return messages asking for comment about his trips. The newspaper noted that he resigned earlier this year after reports surfaced that he had plagiarized several columns for his hometown newspaper in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Goeglein wasn't the only White House staffer winging around the country on someone else's tithes and offerings. The Hill said Jay Hein, director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, has taken 10 trips since October 2006, the second-most among White House aides. The total value of the trips was more than $5,000, according to records.

To paraphrase Delta Airlines, they love to fly and it shows.