"Thousands of pages, yet despite all of that ink, we still don't have a good idea of exactly where the money's going," said Sepp.
We had to ask the elected officials for clarification on some of the line items.
Congressman Ron Paul's office paid "John's Original Photography" $974 for Paul's new portrait, the sitting fee and pictures for his district offices.
When we asked Al Green's office about spending $1,400 on a Nikon camera, his staff told us they use the camera for pictures in the Congressman's newsletters, and since they don't hire a professional photographer, they said "a one-time expense for a high-quality camera saves money."
Sheila Jackson Lee paid a company nearly $10,979.70 in a three-month time period to take still pictures at various town hall meetings and hearings. Her staff told us, "This documentation provides resource material for our legislative work in Washington D.C. based on what we hear directly from our constituents."
When it comes to getting around town, you're leasing 2007 GMC Yukons for both Kevin Brady and Al Green. Gene Green tools around town in an 2007 Chevy Impala. Culberson uses your tax dollars to pay for a Chrysler Pacifica, while Jackson Lee drives and her staff drive a Mercury Mariner Hybrid.
None of the other representatives have vehicles paid for with tax dollars.
"My wife would probably say I'm cheap and maybe the staff would, too," said Green.
Maybe not. Each member decides how many employees they need and how much to pay them.
Ron Paul is the most generous employer, paying an average salary of $56,394 a year.
Culberson is the only area representative with two employees on his staff pulling in well over $100,000 ($155,704.26 and $114,426.49).
On top of the allowance, Congressional members are paid $174,000 a year. Their annual cost-of-living raise is automatic unless they vote not to accept it, which they did for 2010.
"If my Social Security recipients in our district are not getting cost of living, then I shouldn't either," Green told Davis.
Brady agreed saying, "I think Congress should be absolutely the last one given a cost of living increase."
The biggest spender, Congressman McCaul told us that his district is much more spread out. It covers not only West Houston and Kingwood, but also all the way down Highway 290 to Austin and Round Rock, where he says rent for his district office there is more expensive than rent in most parts of Houston.
If you're wondering why Congressman Pete Olson wasn't included in our story, he wasn't elected until the end of 2008, making it impossible to compare his spending with the other legislators.
The "Statement of Disbursements" we reviewed to find the information about how congressional members spent your tax dollars are now available online.
The third quarter of 2009 was the first period posted online.
Below are the statements we received from each member of Congress in our story.
"My office utilizes as much of our limited budget as possible to serve all of the constituents of the 10th District, as it is intended. I believe my constituents receive more direct representation through the Member Representational Account (MRA) than they would by sending more of their money back to Speaker Pelosi and the Treasury. The 10th District has the largest population in the state and second largest in the nation. We staff four offices between Houston and Austin to serve more than one million people, up from 651,000 in 2003. I fly back to the district every weekend for constituent events, and traveling within the district is also more expensive because of the size. I have also made it a practice to hire and retain experienced and competent staff, and I believe my district has been better served with continuity and little turnover as a result."
"I do my best to be a watchdog and good steward of our tax dollars, which is why I have never exceeded the budget set for me by the U.S. House of Representatives and have returned over $1.3 million of our tax dollars to the U.S. Treasury for deficit and debt reduction."
Congressman Culberson also pays his staff the second highest wage of all eight Houston-area representatives we compared. The average salary for employees in Culberson's office is $56,128.34. He is the only representative of the eight who has two staffers on the payroll making more than $100,000 a year. A third of the Congressman's staff has been working for him for over nine years -- a retention rate that is higher than any other member of the delegation. Like most employers, salary is determined by merit, experience and years of service.
Sheila Jackson Lee