By Adam Andrzejewski
Between 2017 and 2021, more than 500 Congress members disclosed that they took more than 8,000 trips paid for by roughly 700 third-party organizations, according to an analysis by OpenTheBooks.com. While this practice is not illegal, it presents lawmakers with a conflict of interest.
That conflict of interest is most clearly seen through five nonprofit organizations that paid for 925 trips for members of Congress and their staff, who in turn got those organizations $102 million in federal funds over the five-year period we audited.
Members or staffers took about 2,600 trips to foreign destinations vs. about 5,490 trips to domestic destinations. Half the foreign trips went to just five popular overseas destinations: Israel (939); Berlin, Germany (103); Tokyo, Japan (100); Paris, France (102); and Brussels, Belgium (76).
In April 2019, Rep. Vicente Gonzalez and his wife traveled to Amman, Jordan and Beiruit, Lebanon, a trip that cost $20,328.32 and was paid for by the United Nations Foundation. They flew business class, not coach, and reported $14,000 in travel costs alone. Gonzalez, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stayed at the Four Seasons while in Amman.
The United Nations receives nearly $10 billion in taxpayer aid to 58 sub-entities each year and its Foundation received $11 million in congressional grants during the last five-year period.
At arms-length, all the trips are legal. However, the pattern is troubling. Each free trip, funded by an entity receiving federal funding, presents lawmakers with a clear conflict of interest.