T.W. Farnam of the Washington Post has broken a hot story, on Feb. 17, 2013, about congressional staffers enjoying extravagant overseas trips at the expense of foreign governments, Congressional staffers often travel on tabs of foreign governments. Last summer alone about a dozen congressional staffers flew business class on a trip to China, and stayed at luxury hotels while touring the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. They received a “briefing on ancient artifacts and dynasties” at the Shanghai Museum.This all-expenses-paid visit came as a courtesy of China.
The Chinese government hosted a day of meetings with officials in Beijing which was followed by eight days packed with outings to destinations often which are often frequented by tourists along with a stop at a missile frigate and two others related to national security, which was the official theme of the trip. The Denver Post has also covered this Washington Post story. There are more and more foreign governments sponsoring such excursions for lawmakers and their staffs.This has been happening even though an overhaul of ethics rules adopted by Congress five years ago has banned them from going on most other types of free trips.
This type of overseas travel is often arranged by lobbyists for foreign governments, although lobbyists were barred from organizing other types of congressional trips out of concern that these type of extravagant trips could be used to buy favor. But, this overseas travel is covered by an exemption which Congress granted itself for trips which are deemed to be cultural exchanges. A Washington Post examination of the congressional disclosures has revealed the extent of this congressional travel for the first time, with findings that Hill staff had reported taking 803 of these trips in the six years which ended in 2011.