HELENA, Mont. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Jon Tester is accusing his opponent, Congressman Denny Rehberg, of abusing government travel during his tenure as a congressman to take lavish travel trips on the taxpayer dime with no good reason for doing so.
The Rehberg campaign countered that the trips were part of the congressman's committee work, and accused Tester of trying to change the topic from other issues after a recent poll showed him slightly behind in one of the closest and most-watched Senate races in the country.
Rehberg has established a slim lead attacking Tester, the Democrat, as an ally of an unpopular president, and arguing the Big Sandy farmer has failed to be as independent as he originally promised.
Tester, who has worked to keep distance with the Obama administration on some key issues, is building on his campaign theme of portraying Rehberg as a career politician with few results. Tester says research shows Rehberg took 15 trips to nearly three dozen countries, with little to show for it.
The destinations included many destinations in Europe, including Paris dinners with federal government contractors, along with outings to vacation hotspots in the Marshall Islands and South America.
"He is basically seeing the world on the taxpayer dime," Tester said in an interview. "It just goes on, and on, and on."
Tester said he has twice used the congressional delegation travel. He went to Kuwait and Iraq in 2007; and Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan last year. He argues both those trips were necessary to see the combat areas and to help shape his policies on the wars.
Rehberg has gone to the Middle East three times since being elected to Congress in 2000, according to research of travel records provided by Tester's campaign.
In 2001, the congressman went to Denmark, Iceland and Norway. In 2002, congressional travel took him to Australia and New Zealand, and the following year Rehberg went to Denmark, Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom. A 2004 trip to the South Pacific's Marshall Islands and Micronesia preceded a trip later that year to the United Kingdom and Kazakhstan.
Tester argues 2005 trips were more egregious, which started off in February to Panama, Argentina, Brazil and Tobago. The very next month, Rehberg took a six-day trip to the France and Netherlands where itinerary records show dinners with federal contractors. In July, Rehberg visited Germany, Italy and France. And then in October of that year Rehberg went back to Europe to see Lithuania, Ukraine and Austria — followed in November by a trip to Germany and the Netherlands.