Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. says he asked for guidance from the Federal Election Commission before using campaign funds to cover a portion of a trip to Israel.
Travel expenses detailed in a recent campaign finance report filed by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s (D-Ill.) re-election committee demonstrate the overlapping rules that cover privately financed but officially connected Congressional travel.
The year-end report filed by the Jesse Jackson Jr. for Congress campaign reported that $9,273 was spent for hotel accommodations at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem for a “CODEL in August 2011.” An additional $3,210 was spent on a tour guide in Tel Aviv, according to the FEC filing.
The combined travel costs represented about 10 percent of all the committee’s expenditures during the period of the report, which covers October through the end of 2011.
Experts in campaign finance law told Roll Call that there are two cases in which a lawmaker can use campaign funds in a re-election account to pay for travel overseas: political activity that would include fundraisers or events for Americans living abroad, or a trip related to their official duties as a federal office holder.
“Campaign funds can be used for officeholder expenses and FEC regulations make clear that’s permissible,” said Michael Toner of Wiley Rein. “But it would be up to the [Congressional] ethics committees to decide what are bona fide official expenses.”
Jackson traveled with his wife to Israel in August, not as part of an official Congressional delegation but as part of a trip organized and paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation, the charitable arm of the pro-Israel lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Before the trip commenced, Jackson asked the House Ethics Committee to approve an extension of the trip beyond the days covered by the AIEF. Post-travel disclosure forms filed with the committee show that Jackson remained in Israel for an additional three nights and four days. The entire stay began Aug. 7 and ended Aug. 19; the AIEF-sponsored portion of the trip ended when most Members of the group departed on Aug. 15.
The foundation reported spending a total of $14,556 for travel, $2,614 on lodging, $1,975 on meals and $3,528 on security, entrance and tour guide expenses for Jackson and his wife. The rates listed for the King David Hotel, where the group spent the Jerusalem portion of the trip, ranged from $388 to $407 per night. The itinerary included meetings with government officials, seminars with university professors and tours of historic and archeological sites.
Jackson stayed in Israel after the other lawmakers on the trip left late on Aug. 15 in order to attend additional meetings, the Illinois Democrat said. He said he called the Federal Election Commission for verbal guidance on the question of having his re-election campaign cover the tab for the extra days, though he said he didn’t request anything in writing.
“It is impossible on an AIEF trip to meet everyone that you need to meet,” Jackson said in an interview. “There were additional meetings I wanted to have in the West Bank and in Bethlehem while I was there that I had to set up after the trip. ... This was not a vacation for me.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.