“In this day and age they are actually more important than they’ve ever been before,” Glickman said. “It’s really one of the only times that members of Congress spend time with one another in a bipartisan way.”
Glickman said no registered lobbyists attend any of the group’s events.
The Congressional Institute, a nonprofit “dedicated to helping members of Congress better serve their constituents,” spent nearly $200,000 in 2012 to send dozens of staffers on two annual retreats that it sponsors each year.
Last January, the institute paid for more than five dozen staffers to meet their bosses in Baltimore for the annual “Congress of Tomorrow” retreat for the House Republican Conference. In May, it paid for more than 100 Republican staffers to attend a chiefs of staff retreat in Cambridge, Md.
At the time of last year’s Baltimore trip, every member of the nonprofit’s board was a current or former registered lobbyist for corporations including Verizon Communications Inc., American Express Co. and UPS Inc., according to OpenSecrets.org.
Congressional Institute President Mark Strand told CQ Roll Call at the time that lobbyists on the institute’s board did not plan the trip, shape its agenda or address the group. But they were given the opportunity to network with lawmakers and staffers during a reception before holding separate meetings the next day.
The House Ethics Committee announced in December that it had adopted new regulations for accepting privately financed congressional travel, including heightened disclosure requirements designed to better show links between trip sponsors and lobbying interests.
“The committee will continue to examine the growth of groups related to organizations that retain lobbyists, and will continue to consider whether there is a need and fair manner to regulate further,” then-Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner, R-Ala., and ranking member Linda T. Sánchez, D-Calif., said in a statement.