by KRISTINE FRAZAO, The National Desk
WASHINGTON (TND) – Tel Aviv, Tokyo, Berlin and Paris may sit atop lists of the best places to take a vacation, but they also are among prime destinations outside groups pay to fund so called fact-finding trips for members of Congress.
Inside the United States there are plenty of expeditions as well,including the popular Aspen Ideas Festival.
“When you’re buying trips in sponsoring trips for members of congress or their staffers there’s a real question as to whether you’re actually buying influence," said Adam Andrzejewski.
The short answer, said Andrzejewski, is yes.
His group, Open the Books, cross checked lawmakers' financial disclosure forms and total trips sponsored, with how much funding from taxpayers those same groups received over the last five years.
He created a "top offenders" list of sorts, which includes the Atlantic Council, the Aspen Institute, the United Nations Foundation, the German Marshall Fund and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
While their activity is perfectly legal, Andrzejewski is calling for updates to the law.
"Congress writes the rules the rules are lax and they need to crack down. We need to have ethics reform in this area," he said in a recent interview.
But the other option for members of Congress to travel is on the taxpayer dime.
Many say having private groups fund these trips, to better assist lawmakers in seeing issues firsthand which they’re actually dealing with on Capitol Hill, is a service to the public.
"You want these people to be chained to their desks and never encounter a for an official or a foreign government to understand what it is they’re legislating on, then I think you’re going to have ill-informed people in Congress," said Penn State University law professor Stanley Brand.
Brand previously served as General Counsel to the House of Representatives, and as special counsel to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, which is now the Ethics Committee.
“If they’re going to pass the Foreign Aid Bill, if they’re going to decide which country gets what, it seems to me part of there has to be knowledge about what they are appropriating for," he said.
Members are now required to disclose the details of most trips, which has been a source of controversy in the past.
But critics say there’s no easy way to find out if the same groups footing the bills are being rewarded as a result.