By DANIEL FRIEDMAN
February 01, 2007
The House and Senate have each approved measures to ban lobbyist-funded travel for lawmakers and their staffs. But the new restrictions would still allow privately financed travel in some scenarios.
The travel rules, along with bans on lobbyist-bought gifts, new disclosure requirements for earmarks and other measures, form sweeping ethics reform packages intended to reduce lobbyists’ ability to use money to influence Congress.
But some organizations hoping to sway lawmakers still would be able pay for congressional travel under the two measures.
Nonprofit organizations that do not pay lobbyists yet still advocate for policies would not be banned from funding travel for lawmakers and their staffs.
And both the House and Senate measures would still permit travel funded by nonprofits affiliated with lobbying organizations. That means that groups such as the American Israel Education Foundation, an offshoot of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), can continue paying for lawmakers’ trips to Israel. AIPAC, along with other groups, has long paid for legislators to travel to Israel on educational trips intended to increase support for Israeli policies.
Universities may not be affected
The House-approved measure also would exempt private universities, some of which employ lobbyists, from restrictions on paying for congressional travel. And groups that pay lobbyists would still be able to fund one-day trips for House members to visit a site, give a speech, attend a forum or sit on a panel.
Jim Clarke, senior vice president for public policy at the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), which represents trade societies and philanthropic organizations, said the group is pleased that its members can still support some educational trips. ASAE has argued that a ban on outside-funded travel would outlaw legitimate fact-finding trips.
Many aspects of the travel restrictions are not final. Under both reform packages, the ethics committees in each chamber must pre-approve travel funded by outside groups. Those committees are still working out details of that process.
The House Ethics Committee has not finished guidelines governing issues such as how close the connection between the trip and official duties must be and what constitutes an unreasonable expenditure on a privately funded trip.
House rules take effect March 1
The House package, because it is a rules change rather than legislation, will automatically take effect March 1. The Senate bill, by contrast, needs House passage of companion legislation and the president’s signature to become law. House Democrats are expected to introduce a bill containing new ethics rules in coming months.
The House and Senate could either reconcile their ethics reforms or operate under distinct rules.