Breaking the Rules
Back when word first broke of some of the excesses of the Jack Abramoff scandal–particularly the trips he arranged and paid for in violation of House rules (lobbyists aren’t supposed to pay for trips)–I can remember thinking that that aspect of it wasn’t a particularly big deal. It didn’t much matter whether the tickets were paid for with a credit card issued by Abramoff’s lobbying shop or from the treasury of a nonprofit or a trade group or a corporation–the intent of the sponsors of the trips is what matters, and that intent is, generally speaking, to influence the policy views of a member of Congress by gaining access to a member or a staffer.
But a second thing puzzled me, which was that I was fairly certain that, over the years, I’d bumped into travel reimbursement reports–the forms that members and staff file with the House Clerk’s Office or the Senate Office of Public Records–that showed lobbyists paying for trips. I was fairly certain it wasn’t all that uncommon an occurrence.
Now the Center for Public Integrity confirms it:
Filings for travel from January 2000 through June 2005 show that lawmakers and aides accepted at least 90 trips for which the original reported sponsors or co-sponsors match the names of firms registered with the Senate Office of Public Records to lobby the federal government. The total cost of the travel listed on the original forms was roughly $145,000.
As of April 21, the Center found that about 20 percent of those forms had been amended to indicate that a different set of sponsors paid for the trips.
The Center also offers a table listing all 90 trips that were originally listed as being sponsored by lobbyists.