Members of Congress have immunity from many routine parking tickets in the District of Columbia, but that doesn't mean they can't try to rack up fines.
According to a Roll Call survey of vehicles parked on Capitol Hill and at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, as of mid-March, lawmakers were carrying at least $15,000 in outstanding tickets — ranging from expired meters to speeding camera violations — and potentially thousands of dollars more.
Three-quarters of those tickets, worth about $11,500, were in default at the time of the survey, having gone more than 60 days, and in some cases years, without payment.
Roll Call canvassed Congressional parking facilities, as well as a special Members-only parking lot at the airport, and reviewed about 300 vehicles displaying a House- or Senate-issued Member parking tag.
Information on parking violations was obtained from the District of Columbia's public ticket database, which is searchable by license plate and includes information on minor violations.
While many vehicles registered a single ticket, valued at as little as $20, a handful of automobiles reported several hundred to thousands of dollars in unpaid tickets.
Roll Call's inquiry appears to have led some offenders to pay up.
Aides to Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said the lawmakers repaid their respective tickets after being contacted by Roll Call.
The District's database showed Weiner received nearly $2,180 in tickets from 2007 to early March, including some instances in which he appears to have incurred multiple violations at the same time, such as failing to display current tags while parked in a taxi stand zone.
"All of the Congressman's parking tickets have been paid. He is pleased to have helped decrease the D.C. budget deficit," Weiner spokesman Dave Arnold said.
Thompson spokesman Lanier Avant likewise said the Mississippi lawmaker repaid $610 in outstanding tickets that his vehicle received from 2004 to 2010. During Roll Call's survey, a second vehicle displaying Thompson's Member parking permit also returned $250 in parking tickets, which Avant said were his own and were also repaid.
According to the House Administration Committee, Members must pay their own parking tickets and are not permitted to use official funds.
The D.C. registry showed California license plates used by Rep. Mike Honda (D) received $640 in tickets from 2007 to 2010.
"Thanks for bringing this to the Congressman's attention. It's being sorted out now (there appears to be some errors in past processing). Either way, it will be taken care of immediately," Honda spokesman Michael Shank said Monday.
Shank said Honda thought he had previously paid some of the tickets.
In the House, Members are issued lawmaker-specific parking permits, identifying each lawmaker and the Congress in which he serves. Staff are eligible to use the parking permits in certain circumstance. Senators are issued similar parking permits.
Some Members also drive vehicles bearing state-issued Congressional license plates — which vary, but typically correspond to a lawmaker's district and chamber — but the majority of vehicles identified by Roll Call with House- or Senate-issued parking permits displayed license plates issued by Maryland, Virginia or the District of Columbia.
Roll Call identified several vehicles with House- or Senate-issued parking permits and locally issued license plates that could not be matched to a specific Member.
The federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act limits the use of state vehicle records and prevented Roll Call from accessing information based on license plates.
Among the unidentified vehicles, one with Maryland plates parked in the Congressional lot at the airport racked up $1,140 from eight parking tickets, which D.C. records indicate were issued in November and December 2010.
Another vehicle with Maryland license plates parked in the Rayburn House Office Building has received $1,315 in tickets from 2007 to 2010, according to D.C. records.
In addition, D.C. records indicate that state-issued Congressional plates for Alaska, California, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Texas have a combined $4,000 in outstanding tickets. It is not clear, however, whether those plates are currently in use by any Members. D.C. records do not identify the owner of a vehicle.
Under a provision in D.C. law, Members of Congress, along with the city's own councilmembers, are exempt from parking tickets when on "official business."
While the exemption allows Members to park in any "available curb space," lawmakers must still obey restrictions for rush hour parking, loading zones and fire hydrants. The exemption also does not protect Members from receiving tickets for speeding or running red lights.
To qualify for the parking exemption, Members must use vehicles with license plates issued by the state that they represent, and not the House- or Senate-issued parking permits.
According to the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles' website, any individual who receives a "parking, minor moving or photo enforcement ticket" must pay the related fine within 30 days, or the penalty is doubled. If a driver does not pay the fine or contest the ticket within 60 days, the District classifies the ticket as delinquent and may add additional penalties, depending on the type of violation.
Vehicles that receive two or more parking tickets, for example, may be "booted," or equipped with a device that prevents the vehicle from being driven.