Thursday, February 16, 2006

Guess Who Opposes A Ban On Lobbyist Paid Travel?

Which special interest groups don't want to see Congress enact a ban on lobbyist-paid travel for members of Congress? Yes, that would be those so-called religious, non-profit organizations who are fighting the ban.

The Hill fills us in:

A handful of nonprofit groups that sponsor travel for members of Congress are pushing back against recent proposals to ban privately funded trips, arguing that their activities are far different from the golfing and exotic foreign junkets that have been the centerpiece of recent lobbying scandals.

Such groups as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities have been quietly raising the issue with sympathetic members of Congress, hoping to convince lawmakers that their trips are valuable educational experiences and have not been abused by lawmakers or lobbyists.

AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, and its associated American Israel Education Foundation have sponsored 161 trips for members of Congress since 2000, according to, including nearly a hundred to Israel itself.

The Hill also tells us that a large part of the House Republican Conference opposes the ban on privately funded travel. "Their trips are substantive, they say, and aren’t designed merely to create an opportunity for their lobbyists to enjoy some face time with lawmakers," the Hill reports. And that sells about as well as a teen-ager trying to convince his parents that a skip day from school was actually a school-sponsored field trip.

What's even more amusing is to hear those religious folks trying to explain how they're different from all the other special interest groups. “It’s a very different situation for nonprofits like ours than for big K Street firms. There has to be some legitimate way to distinguish between the two,” said Joseph Grieboski, president of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy. Grieboski led a group of more than 30 nonprofit religious and human-rights groups, including AIPAC, in writing to congressional leaders last month."

Let's face it folks, a special interest is a special interest whether you claim the blessings of God, Allah or anyone else to whom you pray for moral and spiritual guidance. If you're trying to influence our policy-makers to take a course of action, you should be treated the same as everyone else.

1 comment:

Joseph K. Grieboski said...

Thanks much for your post on the travel ban. I can hardly disagree with you on the concerns regarding potential corruption in travel for public officials.

However, as the founder and president of a small, 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring freedom of religion as the foundation for security, stability, and democracy, the freedom of members to travel to investigate -- in our case -- violations of fundamental rights -- is not only necessary, but mandatory.

Concerns over congressional and staff trips overseas have raised legitimate apprehension over the purpose, necessity, and funding of congressional delegations.

As a small non-profit (annual budget less than $250,000), our ability to affect change in some of the harshest areas of the world (Kosovo, Sudan, Rwanda, Colombia, Central Asia, the Middle East, China, South Asia, and elsewhere) is dependent on the involvement of the United States Congress. By working closely with NGOs and others, the United States Congress promotes the commitment of the United States and the international community regarding freedom of conscience and protection of minority rights. Both directly and indirectly the Congress brings great weight to bear on the protection and promotion of rights in every corner of the globe.

However, it is impossible to understand fully any situation without studying it appropriately. One must experience to grasp fully the complexities of international and regional issues. With the US Congress more actively taking up issues with significant international importance, visits to foreign countries, meetings with foreign officials and peoples, and the establishment of worldwide relationships and educational experiences and global conferences are key to Congress's ability to confront the changing international scene. The current debate over such trips demonstrates that in fact accountability does exist; people are watching how and where Members of Congress travel abroad.

Educational, fact-finding, and conference missions to foreign countries are fundamental means by which Congress asserts its authority over international affairs and educates Members on the most crucial issues facing them today.