The expenses abuse row in the UK is exploding into tiny little sparks of discontent that are being fanned into raging fires all over the country. It seems the average Labour supporter - let's call him Joe Fish 'n Chips - is outraged that his MP might have spent taxpayer money on moat cleaning. The US Congress, presumably in a preemptive CYA move, is preparing to offer up its expense accounts online for better 'transparency'. When I began my career in the early 1980's, an expense account was considered part of your salary. When you were paid tuppence ha'penny to work 50 hours a week, a nice dinner out on "Mother XX (your firm's name here)" was one of the few benefits. As times got worse, journalists' expense accounts were pared to the bone. Taking a source to lunch was so painful (pre-justification, approval of restaurant, maximum per-head limits) that we just waited until someone invited US out.
I remember when I was working at Platt's, my editor-in-chief Halsey Peckworth told me a story about an FBI man who went on a business trip to Russia. When he got there it was cold and rainy and he didn't have a raincoat. He bought one and duly put it on his expense account. J. Edgar Hoover sent his expense form back to him with a note that said "The FBI does NOT pay for raincoats." The agent re-did his expense form and sent it back up for approval with his own note: "Now find the raincoat." Brilliant. Halsey and the rest of us lived by that philosophy for as long as we could get away with it.