Monday, April 2, 2012

Think Tank Junkets

Think tanks often take Members of Congress on trips to various exotic (and non-exotic) locations, but rules need to be followed.

Here is an amusing article describing a "payment issue" with Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC), who attended an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) sponsored forum in Sea Island, Georgia in March 2012.
According to documents filed with the House clerk brought to our attention by LegiStorm founder Jock Friedly, Scott brought along his mother and Zee Patel, a woman he identifies as a “friend,” for the three-day getaway. Patel is a general manager and buyer for the Bits for Lace lingerie store in Charleston, S.C, a boutique that identifies itself as a “bra-fit specialist.”
It’s against ethics rules for AEI to pay for Patel’s meals in addition to Scott’s and his mother’s — that’s a no-no, since the rules permit outside groups to pay travel expenses for members and their relatives, but not their pals.
A spokesman for Scott said the congressman had planned all along to personally reimburse AEI for the cost of Patel’s meals after the trip and is just waiting for an invoice from the think tank.
That AEI-sponsored trip was held at the 5-star hotel The Cloister at Sea Island.  Not bad.

Here is also a Federal Times article on lawmakers "taking advantage" of travel perks, with several mentions of the Heritage Foundation.

Find out which think tank-sponsored trips various Members of Congress and their staff are taking at LegiStorm.  Here are several things I found after searching around for think tanks trips from 2000 to present:
  • Aspen Institute: 1246 trips listed (418 approved by Republicans; 821 approved by Democrats; total cost of all trips: $7,440,733)
  • Heritage Foundation: 587 trips listed (577 Republican; 10 Democratic; total cost of all trips: $536,126)
  • American Enterprise Institute (AEI): 66 trips listed (57 Republican; 6 Democrats; total cost of all trips: $173,168)
  • Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS): 51 trips listed (26 Republican, 25 Democratic; total cost of all trips: $203,431)
  • Atlantic Council of the United States (ACUS): 38 trips listed (22 Republicans, 16 Democratic; total cost of all trips: $83,422)
  • Brookings: 25 trips listed: (5 Republican; 20 Democratic; total spent: $142,132)
  • Council on Foreign Relations (CFR): 19 trips listed (8 Republican; 11 Democratic; total cost of all trips: $39,412)
  • Center for American Progress (CAP): 10 trips listed (1 Republican; 8 Democratic; total cost of all trips: $78,845)

Obviously, some think tanks are very active in sponsoring trips, and others are less so.  It is worth noting that some think tanks, such as CAP, are much newer than other think tanks (such as Heritage), and thus, they have had less time to sponsor events.

Roll Call notes that one of the most expensive per-person trip costs on record includes the $28,000 that AEI and the Vail Valley Foundation paid to send former Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA), on a two-night trip to Beaver Creek, Colorado in 2005.

Update: Rep. Tim Scott reportedly has repaid AEI for the meals of the friend he bought with him to a conference AEI held in Georgia.