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Members Shelled Out $87,000 for Training

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Rep. Rob Wittman paid more than $3,200 from his office budget in December 2009 to Podium Master, which conducts public speaking seminars and offers private coaching.

Sometimes, even a Member of Congress needs help speechifying.

Rep. Rob Wittman shelled out more than $3,200 from his official office budget in December 2009 to Altamont, Tenn.-based Podium Master, which conducts public speaking seminars and offers private coaching.

But the Virginia Republican isn’t the only Member — or office — in search of assistance.

House spending reports compiled by the Sunlight Foundation into a searchable database show the chamber paid more than $87,000 in 2010 for various “training expenses,” to vendors ranging from Lexis-Nexis to the American Red Cross. With the addition this week of the fourth quarter of 2010, spending records for the data now spans an entire calendar year, making it possible to generate trends for annual spending by Congress.

According to those records, the Clerk of the House spent the largest amount of any office on training expenses in 2010, paying out nearly $48,000 to the Agriculture Department’s Graduate School, a continuing education program that offers courses to both government employees and the general public.

“The Office of the Clerk uses USDA Graduate School for professional staff development training for a wide range of positions (entry level to senior management),” House Administration Committee spokeswoman Salley Wood wrote in an e-mail Friday.

“Training classes include leadership management skills, proof reading, technical training, customer service excellence, publications and printing design, HR management, budgeting, financial management and contracts management,” she added.

The Clerk’s office also paid $6,200 to Xerox Corp. for training, spending reports show.

Although official spending records generally provide little information beyond who received funds and dates of service, House offices disclosed that the training covered everything from learning a new language to peer evaluations.

A spokeswoman for Wittman said the lawmaker sought out Podium Master “for communications training in his representation duties.”

Podium Master co-founder Jeanette Henderson said Friday that the company typically works one-on-one with Members, often on a specific speech.

“When it comes to the Congress, we do mostly individual sessions,” Henderson said.

Rep. Paul Broun’s office reported paying more than $3,700 to Dallas-based Spaeth Communications in April 2010.

The Georgia Republican’s office could not be reach for comment Friday, but Spaeth Executive Vice President Rebecca Shaw said the firm offers courses on “personal communications,” “mastering the media” and other topics.

“We have a very diverse client base,” Shaw said, but she added that “candidates and political officeholders” are a small portion of their cliental.

Rep. Keith Ellison recorded the largest training expenditure among individual Member offices, reporting a single $15,000 payment to Grassroots Solutions in January 2010.

A spokesman for the Minnesota Democrat said the funds paid for costs associated with the “annual all-staff meeting,” including “venue, planning, materials, facilitation and follow-up.”

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