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Rep. Jim McDermott and his senior legislative aide earlier this month traveled to Indonesia on what appears to be the most expensive privately financed trip based on per person costs since Congress amended its travel rules in 2007.
The development company Chemonics International, which contracts with the U.S. Agency for International Development, spent almost $45,000 to send the Washington Democrat and Jessica Lee to Bali and Jakarta to attend a democracy forum and meet with government officials. McDermott’s travel expenses totaled about $21,000 and Lee’s were almost $24,000.
According to records maintained by the website LegiStorm, a private entity has not spent that much per person since Congress amended its rules related to privately sponsored travel five years ago in an effort to curb the influence of lobbyists on lawmaking. Many types of costly trips that had previously drawn criticism were eliminated. Privately financed travel is distinct from official congressional delegations, or CODELs, which are paid for by the federal government.
Neither Chemonics nor USAID lobbies Congress.
For McDermott’s office, the purpose of the trip to Indonesia was twofold.
The 12-term lawmaker from Seattle co-chairs the Congressional Indonesia Caucus with Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind. The caucus has in the past hosted several briefings on Indonesia’s pro- democracy movement and its role in Southeast Asia. Because of McDermott’s caucus role and his position as ranking member on the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton invited him to attend the Bali Democracy Forum on Nov. 8 and 9.
The visit coincided with Indonesia implementing restrictions on imported fruit. Indonesia is the fifth-largest importer of Washington state apples, which generated $51 million in sales last year. New licensing and inspection standards could be economically devastating for Washington apple, cherry and pear interests, according to a McDermott spokesman.
“Congressman McDermott has heard from the businesses in the district and throughout Washington state about the trade disruption caused by the regulations that will affect all imported horticulture goods,” spokesman Kinsey Kiriakos wrote in an email.
“The Congressman has sent several letters to the Indonesian government about the new regulations, but has always felt that addressing issues of such importance is more effective when done in person,” he added.
Chemonics paid for McDermott and Lee to visit Indonesia because it administers a program there that supports public policy research and effective-governance efforts.
McDermott and Lee spent the first two days in Bali at the democracy forum before attending breakfast briefings, site visits and other meetings to discuss issues including female representation in politics and regional animal diseases. The final two days, in Jakarta, included meetings with Indonesia’s minister for the economy and other economic, agriculture and trade officials.