Sapphire Energy, an algae-based biofuels company, has been lobbying since it was formed in 2008. But the privately held company, which is headquartered in San Diego, recently sponsored its first Congressional trip when it sent Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and four staffers to its development facility in Las Cruces, N.M., last month. Sapphire’s main lobbying objective is to “support technology development of algae as an advanced biofuel,” and it spent $650,000 on the effort last year, according to its filings.
The Iowa Corn Growers Association — a state-level affiliate of the National Corn Growers Association, which spent $495,000 last year on federal lobbying — in August brought Congressional staffers to the state in conjunction with the Iowa Soybean Association and the Renewable Products Marketing Group to learn about biofuels, which has been a focus of the corn lobby’s federal-level efforts.
Congress in 2007 amended its ethics rules to restrict private groups that retain registered lobbyists from arranging, organizing and financing most forms of lengthy travel, but it left open the opportunity for companies and interest groups to sponsor trips that include business on only one day.
Though the House Ethics Manual acknowledges that “travel may be among the most attractive and expensive gifts” that Members and their staffers can receive, experts say these short drop-ins facilitate interaction between Members of Congress and outside groups, which include private corporations and lobbying entities.
“We just wanted to be sure we got rid of the junkets — the long trips and the expensive ones,” said Public Citizen’s Craig Holman, who helped draft the current travel restrictions. “One-day trips can facilitate interaction between Members of Congress and outside groups, including lobbying entities. And that is useful.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., walks on Broadway after a Future Forum with young entrepreneurs in the Flatiron District of New York City, April 16, 2015. Reps. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Grace Meng, D-N.Y., also attended.