9 Investigates

9 Investigates: Local congressman's flight to Germany cost taxpayers $16,000

Members of Congress spend millions on plane tickets each year. They travel the world, in part, to see the impact of foreign policy.

"There's actually not enough it, it's really good for members to get out of the United States," Meredith McGehee said.

McGehee is with the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group in Washington, D.C. While she applauded congressional travel, she said the price tag is another issue.

"The problem often is who is paying for that travel. If this is travel related to their official duties, it should be paid for by the taxpayer then they should be held accountable," McGehee said.

9 Investigates has uncovered that some members of Congress are flying in the expensive seats.

For example:

In January, Iran released four Americans it had been holding as prisoners, including pastor Saeed Abedini.
The White House asked North Carolina U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger and congressmen from Michigan and California to fly to Germany to meet them.

The last minute flight cost taxpayers $3,884.16 for Rep. Jared Huffman of California. It cost $5,171.82 to fly Michigan’s Dan Kildee. But Pittenger's flight cost $16,700.66.

Eyewitness News wanted to know why Pittenger's flight cost three to four times more than the others on that trip.

As Eyewitness News started digging, we learned it was because his flight was in international business class.

Pittenger is currently traveling in the Middle East. A spokesman said he wouldn't be able to speak to Channel 9 on camera.

But he sent a statement, saying:

"Both the attending physician and Congressman Pittenger's personal physician have recommended that Congressman Pittenger fly business class when possible, due to the ongoing problem of a burgeoning disc in his back."

He said the White House was made aware of the issue prior to the purchase of the expensive ticket to Germany.

Eyewitness News obtained a letter from the attending physician for Congress recommending that travel accommodations be made for Pittenger's medical condition.

Government rules do indicate medical issues are one reason a member of Congress can fly in business or first class.

Channel 9 wanted to know if Pittenger is scaling back travel because his back problems require more expensive plane tickets.

He told Eyewitness News “no,” but added he only uses official travel when necessary.

He went on to say, as Chair of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, he's helping allies in the fight against terrorism.

McGehee doesn't see it that way.

She said given the cost, the congressman should not have taken that trip to Germany.

"He can be held accountable. He can explain why he made that call and then the voters can make their own assessment of that judgment," McGehee said.

Eyewitness News contacted other politicians from the Charlotte area.

U.S. Senators Richard Burr and Tom Tillis said they always fly coach and so does Rep. Alma Adams.

Eyewitness News is waiting to hear back from Rep. Richard Hudson and Rep. Patrick McHenry.

Pittenger's office sent Eyewitness News a packet detailing all his travels, saying they are necessary.