The New York Times: Paul Ryan Stays Close to Home While Others Junketeer
The watchdogs called for bipartisan study of a problem that was laid bare two years ago when a group of 10 House members and 32 staff aides went on a fact finding trip to Baku, Azerbaijan — an all-expenses-paid jaunt supposedly financed by two American-Azerbaijani friendship groups. Actually, the $750,000 tab turned out to be secretly picked up by Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil company in violation of House ethics rules and federal law that bars foreign governments’ intruding into American policy. These facts were discovered by the semi-independent Office of Congressional Ethics, an investigative agency not necessarily dear to lawmakers. It was created seven years ago to strengthen ethics enforcement after the Jack Abramoff lobbying corruption scandal shook Congress. To its credit, the ethics office made sure its Baku findings were released to the public for action, while the more powerful House ethics committee of lawmakers quietly punted, preferring to hand the issue off for possible investigation at the Justice Department.
The Baku junketeers, who were gifted with crystal tea sets, silk scarves, Azerbaijani rugs and other trinkets, stressed that they had obtained advance approval for the trip from the House ethics committee itself. Which is exactly the point raised now by the watchdog groups: Shouldn’t Congress have a more reliable method of vetting the credentials of devious sponsors? These junkets have been increasing in number toward the levels of the Abramoff heyday, according to the watchdog groups, including the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, the Project on Government Oversight and Public Citizen. Special interests and foreign governments and businesses are increasingly enticing lawmakers abroad while “obfuscating the source of funding,” the groups warned in their plea to Mr. Ryan.
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