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Rep. Wexler heads to think tank funded by big Democratic donor

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Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, is resigning from Congress and accepting a job at the Center for Middle East Peace & Economic Cooperation, a nonprofit with offices in Florida and Washington, D.C., that's funded by Slim-Fast founder S. Daniel Abraham.

The Center for Middle East Peace & Economic Cooperation appears to operate on a shoestring budget, relying on annual contributions of roughly a million dollars from Abraham and listing a payroll of four, two of whom reside in Israel, according to 2008 IRS filings. In 2007, the group listed four American staffers, each making $90,000 or less each, and two Israeli consultants, making up to $198,000 each.

Wexler will work out of its office in downtown DC, the center told Sunlight.

Personal financial disclosure records show that Wexler accumulated tens of thousands of dollars in debt while in Congress--a study of filings from 2007 placed him in worse financial shape than all but 10 members of Congress, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis.

Wexler's finances have slipped slowly since he's been in office. In 2008, his bank account held less than $15,000, and he reported credit card balances between $40,000 and $115,000 and college loans between $50,000 and $100,000. The Waxmans have three children.

In 2007, he reported a credit card balance between $51,000 and $115,000, and student loans between $15,000 to $50,000. The year prior, his credit card balance stood to $50,000 to $100,000, and in 2005, it was $25,000 to $65,000.

His wife draws a salary from the American Jewish Committee and, beginning last year, income from Casi, the records show. Laurie Wexler does not appear in IRS documents listing highest-paid or "key" employees of the American Jewish Committee, which spent $180,000 lobbying Congress last year.

As a member of Congress, Wexler was a hub for lobbyists working for other nations--far more so than any other member, including his colleagues on the Foreign Affairs Committee. He was contacted 173 times in a recent year-long period analyzed by Sunlight, followed by Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., (105 times), a former whip, and Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., (100 times), a fellow committee member.

New ethics rules put somewhat of a damper on the most lucrative post-Congressional career, that of a K Street lobbyist, by requiring a one-year cooling-off period before retired House members can attempt to sway their former colleagues.

Providing a financial cushion to an important Democrat would be one way for Abraham to maximize his support to the party and to issues he cares about; he is already close to the 2009-2010 maximum contribution amounts of $30,000 each to the DCCC and DSCC.

There's no indication that Wexler plans on moving into the lobbying sphere in 2011, but former members with strong foreign ties are some of the most sought-after, and have attained some of the highest-paid contracts.

Florida senator Mel Martinez, who served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, abruptly resigned his seat this year and joined DLA Piper as a partner in its government affairs practice, serving as an adviser to clients of the international law and lobbying firm. (Martinez has not registered as a lobbyist; in the Senate, the cooling-off period is two years).

Foreign lobbyists representing Turkey, including former top House members Bob Livingston, Dennis Hastert and Dick Gephardt, reported 57 of Wexler's contacts--more than any other country--followed by 47 from lobbyists working on behalf of Azerbaijan.