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Members Flock to Israel With Travel Loophole

Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (left) speaks with Israeli President Shimon Peres during a trip last month that was paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation.

“Pursuant to Senate Rules, registered lobbyists from CAP Action did not participate in this trip, nor were they involved in the planning of the trip or the selection of invitees,” the spokeswoman said. “The trip was for educational purposes only and was in no way related to CAP Action’s lobbying activities.”

Some experts agree that nonprofit sponsorship of Congressional travel serves a valuable purpose, regardless of whether they engage in activities with lobbying entities.

“Whenever anyone hears of these Members taking trips they think they’re boondoggles. The truth is, they’re not. ... They’re worthwhile time spent by Members of Congress on educational trips abroad and are hard to accomplish without these nonprofits,” said Kenneth Gross, an attorney at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

Trips Advance Policy Goals

During the August trips, participants met with Israeli government officials and Middle East scholars and learned about Israel’s strategic concerns, in meetings often described in the press as official Congressional delegations.

Those experiences stick with Members: Hoyer once told a group gathered at AIPAC’s annual policy conference that past visits to the country left an “indelible impression” on the lawmakers that “provoked strong agreement on several important points.”

“Members of AIPAC, Israel’s fight is our fight,” Hoyer said.

During his most recent visit, Hoyer encouraged a group of ambassadors from around the world to oppose Palestinian statehood at the United Nations, after co-sponsoring a nonbinding resolution on the same issue that passed the House by a 407-6 vote just weeks before. AIPAC vehemently opposes Palestine’s bid for recognition at the U.N. and has urged supporters to take action against it.

Holman said trips that “proselytize” one position over another are not in the spirit of the revised rules, and he said the success of the Israeli travel will encourage more lobbying groups to work in tandem with nonprofits to arrange travel.

“As more lobbying entities become aware of the loophole, I expect this to start spinning out of control eventually. It’s a loophole we’re going to have to close,” Holman said.

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