By Mark Tapscott
Aspen Institute employees contributed more than $800,000 to Democratic candidates and causes between 2017 and 2021, even as their employer got $38.2 million in federal funds and paid for hundreds of foreign junkets taken by Members of Congress and their staffs.
The Washington, D.C.-based liberal non-profit has 609 employees and received more than $131 million in contributions and grants from all sources in 2020, according to Aspen’s latest available IRS tax return.
Employees who identified Aspen as their employer made 3,194 federal campaign donations to President Joe Biden and other Democratic presidential and congressional candidates, as well as to Democratic party committees, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) data examined by The Epoch Times.
Aspen is one of five highly influential non-profits recently identified by researchers at Open the Books as collectively receiving $102 million in federal funds between 2017 and 2021. Between them, the five non-profits paid for 925 foreign junkets.
Aspen got $38.2 million of the $102.1 million during the five-year period and covered costs for 379 junkets, the highest total of trips of the groups. The Atlantic Council got $47.9 million, while funding 53 junkets, according to Open the Books.
The United Nations Foundation paid for the second highest number of junkets at 244, while receiving $11.2 million. Next came the German Marshall Fund of America at 128 trips and $3 million. The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars paid for 121 junkets while getting $1.8 million from the federal government.
Aspen and the other four groups topped a list of more than 700 third-party organizations that funded in excess of 8,000 junkets by 500 individual senators and representatives, including members of both political parties, during the five-year period.
Open the Books said 2,600 of the junkets were to overseas destinations, while the remainder were to locations within the U.S. As an example of the junkets, Open the Books cited the April, 2019, Rep. Vicente Gonzalez and his wife excursion to Jordan and Lebanon at a cost of $20,328.32 that was covered by the United Nations Foundation. He is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
All of the trips were reported by the groups and the congressional figures, as required by federal law, but the fact the junkets were paid for by groups that seek to influence federal policy in multiple ways, while at the same time getting money from Washington, presents significant potential for serious conflicts of interest, according to Open the Books Founder and Chief Executive Officer Adam Andrzejewski.
“They are buying friends and buying influence. And it becomes an unholy alliance when the organizations paying for congressional travel are funded by taxpayers. Every single congressional trip paid for by an organization receiving taxpayer funding is a potential conflict-of-interest,” Andrzejewski told The Epoch Times.
“We were surprised by the sheer scale and scope of the paid-for travel. Congress loves to travel. In a recent 11-year period, members took 16,300 trips on the taxpayer dime and over the last five years took 8,000 trips paid for by third parties,” he added.
The groups defend the practice by claiming only private funds are involved in the junkets, Andrzejewski pointed out, but he said he is skeptical of that explanation.
“Sure. All of us understand the meaning of the word ‘fungible,'” he said.
The solution is clear in Andrzejewski’s mind. “If an entity is receiving federal funds, they can’t pay for congressional travel. Period,” he told The Epoch Times.
An Aspen Institute spokesman did not respond to The Epoch Times’ request for comment.
Andrzejewski’s Chicago-based non-profit research group has filed more than 40,000 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests at all levels of government in 2020 in its effort to make sure that “every dime is online, in real time” for American taxpayers.
To date, the group has posted the expenditures of all 50 states, and a host of large city and county governments, as well as for the federal government, thus making more than $6 trillion in public spending available to anybody with a computer and internet connection.
The Aspen employee contributions are also legal, but an analysis by opensecrets.org of those worth $200 or more during the 2020 campaign cycle found that 97 percent of them went to Democrats.
The Epoch Times found that the biggest beneficiary of the Aspen employee contributions between 2017 and 2021 was the political action committee (PAC) associated with Act Blue, the non-profit technology firm that describes itself as “a powerful online fundraising platform for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot, progressive organizations, and nonprofits.”
Aspen employees made 2,472 individual contributions to Act Blue—valued at a total of $230,359 during the five-year period. Two-hundred and twelve Aspen employee contributions to PACs and other funds associated with Biden totaled $180,880.
Contributions to Democratic Party entities like the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and the DNC Services Corp. totaled more than $71,000.
Aspen Institute President and CEO Daniel Porterfield received more than $720,000 in combined compensation. Ten other top Aspen executives were paid in excess of $320,000 in salary annually, according to the group’s 2020 tax return.