Privately sponsored foreign congressional travel is again nearing levels seen a decade ago during the travel junket era, masterminded by Jack Abramoff, the disgraced former lobbyist who flew members of Congress around the world on his dime.
An increasing number of publications have reported on this emerging scandal. A recent Washington Post headline noted how “Ten members of Congress took trips secretly funded by foreign government,” and Roll Call reported that “hidden sources, never vetted by the House Ethics Committee, footed the bill for five-star hotels and dining during some members’ all-expenses-paid jaunts” to Turkey.
While congressional travel can have important educational value, too often these trips have become a tool for special interests, foreign governments and foreign businesses to gain access to and influence over elected leaders.
Common Cause and other concerned organizations sent a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan in early November (and are still awaiting a response) encouraging him to impose a moratorium on all privately financed foreign congressional travel and establish a bipartisan task force to close all travel loopholes. Speaker Ryan has set himself apart from his colleagues and accepted only two privately financed trips overseas in 15 years. However, as speaker, he has a new-found responsibility to ensure that privately funded foreign travel for House members is sufficiently scrutinized. We strongly urge Speaker Ryan to appoint a task force on this issue and enact a moratorium on all privately financed foreign travel until stronger foreign congressional travel rules and enforcement mechanisms are in place.