Congress Took More Free Trips in 2013 Than in Any Year Since the Abramoff Reforms

The tally: 1,887 trips at a cost of $6 million, new data from LegiStorm shows.

Picture taken 25 October 2007 from the Latin American Tower in Mexico City of an airliner flying at sunset in front of the snow-capped Iztaccihuatl extinct volcano, 120 km east from the capital.
National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
Feb. 3, 2014, 11:43 a.m.

Mem­bers of Con­gress and their aides took more free trips around the world in 2013 than in any year since new re­stric­tions were put in place after the Jack Ab­ramoff in­flu­ence-ped­dling scan­dal.

The web­site Le­giS­torm, which com­piles con­gres­sion­al travel re­cords, said Monday that law­makers and their staffs took a com­bined 1,887 free trips last year for a total cost of al­most $6 mil­lion.

That amount is more than double the sum private groups spent on con­gres­sion­al trips in 2008, the first full year that the tightened travel rules of 2007 went in­to ef­fect. The total num­ber of trips has bounded up­ward by more than 60 per­cent since 2008 as well.

Last year, law­makers en­joyed all-ex­penses-paid jour­neys to Ire­land, Mo­rocco, France, South Africa, Is­rael, Tur­key, and many more des­tin­a­tions, ac­cord­ing to House travel re­cords.

Lob­by­ists and those who em­ploy them have not been al­lowed to dir­ectly fin­ance privately fun­ded con­gres­sion­al travel abroad since 2007. But as Na­tion­al Journ­al doc­u­mented earli­er this year, many of the private in­terests foot­ing the bill for in­ter­na­tion­al con­gres­sion­al travel are tied closely to lob­by­ing op­er­a­tions in Wash­ing­ton.

Some even share staff and of­fice space with lob­by­ing shops. The Amer­ica Is­rael Edu­ca­tion Found­a­tion, which spent $1.7 mil­lion on con­gres­sion­al travel in 2013, more than any oth­er group, shares an ad­dress with the in­flu­en­tial Amer­ic­an Is­rael Pub­lic Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, for in­stance.

Over­all, Is­rael was the most pop­u­lar des­tin­a­tion, ac­count­ing for $2 mil­lion in travel — more than one-third of the total travel ex­penses to all des­tin­a­tions.

The total num­ber of con­gres­sion­al trips still hasn’t reached the peak of 2003 through 2005, when there were more than 4,000 an­nu­al con­gres­sion­al voy­ages at an av­er­age cost of about $10 mil­lion.

But the num­ber has been stead­ily climb­ing since Con­gress began tight­en­ing its rules close to sev­en years ago, as the stigma of fly­ing abroad on a private group’s dime has dimmed. The pre­vi­ous high, un­der the cur­rent rules, was 1,621 trips that cost $5.88 mil­lion in 2011, ac­cord­ing to Le­giS­torm.

Law­makers are al­lowed — and of­ten do — bring their spouses along on the trips, adding to the al­lure. While the it­in­er­ar­ies must be ap­proved in ad­vance by the House Eth­ics Com­mit­tee, the trips don’t al­ways sound too stress­ful.

In one of the last trips a law­maker took in 2013, Rep. Lu­is Gu­ti­er­rez, D-Ill., and his wife headed to Pu­erto Rico in Decem­ber. They stayed at the El Con­quista­dor Re­sort, a Wal­dorf As­tor­ia prop­erty “uniquely nestled on a cliff over­look­ing the At­lantic Ocean and the Carib­bean Sea,” ac­cord­ing to its web­site.

The Coun­cil of State Gov­ern­ments East­ern Re­gion­al Con­fer­ence picked up the tab. The an­nu­al meet­ing’s theme was “Suc­ceed­ing in a Time of Aus­ter­ity.”

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