To Get Around Ban On Financing Lawmaker Trips, Corporations Turn To Non-Profits

Lauren Victoria Burke/WDCPIX.COM

The New York Times sheds light on the hot new tactic for lawmakers who want to get around Congressional ethics rules that ban corporate-financed travel. Just use a non-profit group — which aren’t subject to the ban — as a pass through for corporate money.

That’s how it seems to have worked when Republican congressmen James Sensenbrenner and Tom Price traveled to Liechtenstein in February to learn about its banking system — as well as to visit a ski resort and tour the Prince of Lichtenstein’s wine cellar.The trip — which cost almost $15,000 for Sensenbrenner and his wife alone — was paid
for by an outfit called the International Management and Development Institute (IMDI), which according to the Times, “seems to exist largely to sponsor congressional travel.” The group pas paid for 34 European trips for lawmakers since 2005.

But the trips were in reality financed by contributions to IMDI by major corporations including Deutsche Bank and Lufthansa, whose executives got special meetings with the
lawmakers. Since those companies have American lobbyists, they can’t fund the trips directly. Hence IMDI.

This is by no means the first we’ve heard about this tactic. But the Times report suggests it’s more widespread than has generally been appreciated. Part of the problem here is that the 2007 ethics reform law left loopholes like this. The result, the Times suggests, is that it may now be harder to tell who’s paying for congressional travel — though not much harder for corporations to pay for it.