McDermott’s recent trip to Indonesia appears to be the most expensive privately financed trip since Congress amended its travel rules in 2007.
Chemonics paid about $12,400 for Lee’s airfare, $1,250 for her lodging and $1,000 for her meals. McDermott’s airfare from Seattle was about $9,500, and receipts for his lodging and meals came to about $980 and $750, respectively. The total cost of each trip also included more than $9,000 for airport departure taxes, hotel Internet access, printing charges, interpreters, meeting rooms and other costs, according to filings maintained by the Clerk of the House.
Police escorts for Mercedes Benz motorcades, per diems for Indonesian meeting participants and business class airfare also added to the total tab.
Chemonics and USAID also paid about $10,000 for Lee to attend a democracy-training program in Indonesia in June.
As CQ Roll Call has reported in the past, Congress amended its rules for privately sponsored travel in 2007 as part of a larger effort to curb outside influence. Reports that super lobbyist Jack Abramoff and others spent lavishly on trips that included golf junkets in St. Andrews, Scotland, prompted the inclusion of travel restrictions in the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act.
After trips financed by entities that employ lobbyists were, in most cases, capped at one day, the year-end tally for privately funded congressional travel dropped precipitously, from $9.9 million in 2005 to $3.6 million in 2007. But in recent years that figure has been on the rise.
Last year, private groups spent about $6 million on congressional travel. Though only $3.6 million has been spent so far this year, it exceeds the amount spent in the 2010 election year. Private travel outlays are typically lower in election years, according to LegiStorm figures.
Some of the most expensive per-person trip costs on record include the $28,000 that the American Enterprise Institute and the Vail Valley Foundation paid to send former Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., on a two-night trip to Beaver Creek, Colo., in 2005, and a trip that J. Scott Bensing, a staffer of former Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., took to Australia that cost General Atomics Aeronautical Systems almost $27,000 during the same year.