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Are ethics reforms unraveling? Lawmakers back on junketing spree

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By Reuters
Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, 8:36 p.m.
 

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers are once again taking advantage of their summer recess to race around the globe on privately financed tours to places such as China, the Middle East and Scotland — trips that watchdog groups cite as evidence that congressional ethics reforms are unraveling.

Critics of such trips say it is unseemly for members of the House and Senate to take trips bankrolled by people and organizations with specific legislative desires.

“It's money well spent by lobbying groups, but for the American public, there is no benefit,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the consumer group Public Citizen.

Congress clamped down on such travel in 2007 after disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's influence-peddling scandal tainted many Republicans with close ties to him, contributing to their 2006 election losses in the House of Representatives.

Abramoff — convicted and imprisoned on fraud and conspiracy charges — paid for lawmakers he was trying to sway on legislative matters, including casino gambling, to fly away for lavish junkets, such as golf outings in Scotland.

Former Republican Congressman Bob Ney and some former congressional and White House aides were convicted of charges arising from the Abramoff scandal.

Nearly 5,000 trips, costing lobbyists $10 million, were taken in 2005. This was a peak that fell to 1,846 in 2006 and then further after reforms were put in place.

Lately, the number of privately financed trips offered by corporate interests, lobbyists, universities and foreign governments, including China, have been rising. Trips this year so far total 1,363, at a cost to the hosts of $3.2 million, according to figures collected by LegiStorm, a nonpartisan watchdog group.

There are 100 Senators and 435 members of the House.

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