Congress Rediscovers the Joy of Free Trips 6 Years after Reform Rules

Friday, February 07, 2014
Lawmakers making their getaway (photo: J. Scott Applewhite)

Members of Congress, their spouses and staff enjoyed plenty of free trips last year, even though new rules were put into place to prevent special interests from providing this kind of perk to lawmakers.


Senators and representatives took 1,887 all-expense-paid journeys worth about $6 million, according to information compiled by LegiStorm.


The amount of the trips was the highest recorded since Congress adopted restrictions in 2007 in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal, which involved illegal influencing of lawmakers.


The number of free trips has steadily gone up, by 60%, since 2008, LegiStorm reported.


Under current rules, lobbyists and their clients cannot directly finance privately funded congressional travel overseas. And yet, lawmakers didn’t spend a dime going to Ireland, Morocco, France, South Africa, Israel, Turkey, and many other countries, according to travel records published by the House of Representatives.


In fact, those travel expenses are paid for by private interests, many of whom have close connections to Washington-based lobbyists. Among these interests is the America Israel Education Foundation, which spent more than any other group on these trips for members of Congress in 2013 ($1.7 million). This resulted in Israel being the most popular destination.


But the Congressional Institute, which is run by top Republican lobbyists and former staff, was the biggest sponsor of trips for staffers, sending 474 Republicans to various nations.


Some of the getaways featured luxury accommodations, and lawmakers are usually allowed to bring their spouses. As an example, Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois) and his wife went to Puerto Rico, where they stayed at the El Conquistador Resort, owned by the Waldorf Astoria, which sits above a cliff overlooking the ocean.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Congress Took More Free Trips in 2013 Than in Any Year Since Lobbying Reforms (by Shane Goldmacher, National Journal)

Caught Our Eye (by Katie Barrows, Legistorm)

High-Flying Lawmakers Spent Half of Their $3.3 Million in Free Travel on Summer Getaways (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Military Pays for Booze for Congressional Trips Abroad (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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