Whitfield Toasts Times in Turkey

Posted December 7, 2009 at 6:39pm

Congressional travel records tell some unusual stories, but this one stands out: a Kentucky Republican traveling to Istanbul to celebrate the New York Times, on the tab of a Turkish industrial conglomerate.

According to documents filed with the House ethics committee, Rep. Ed Whitfield accepted an $18,000 trip to Istanbul for himself and his wife, paid for by a Turkish corporation called the Calik Group.

The Calik Group is an industrial giant involved in mining, oil production, banking and construction, which recently bought one of the largest media companies in Turkey, called ATV-Sabah. The group publishes Sabah, a major Turkish daily newspaper.

The Whitfields’ trip was organized around the launch of the Turkish edition of the New York Times international weekly, which is distributed by Sabah.

The itinerary for the trip included a celebration of the new publishing venture — Whitfield was the keynote speaker — meetings with several local journalists and tours of several major religious sites as well as a visit to “the Grand Bazaar and spice shops.—

The Whitfields flew business class and stayed at the Ciragan Palace Kempinski, a former palace converted into a five-star hotel where the “Sultan Suite— rents for more than $20,000 per night.

Members of Congress cannot accept overnight trips from companies that employ lobbyists, but the Calik Group does not employ lobbyists in the United States, and neither does the New York Times.

The Calik Group does not appear to do business in the United States, though it has a partnership with a Colorado-based mining company to develop mining operations in Turkey.

Whitfield’s agenda also included a meeting with Yalcin Ayasli, who is listed as a Turkish businessman. Ayasli is the founder of a Massachusetts company called the Hittite Microwave Corp., a defense contractor that does employ a lobbyist.

He is also a Whitfield campaign donor and a former leader of the Turkish Coalition of America, a nonprofit promoting U.S.-Turkish relations.

There is no provision in House rules that would prevent Whitfield from meeting with a representative of a U.S. company on a foreign trip.

As a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, a Turkish publishing venture may be outside Whitfield’s legislative arena, but he is also the co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on U.S.-Turkey Relations and Turkish Americans.

A Whitfield spokeswoman said it was in his role with the Congressional caucus that Whitfield “was invited to attend … and discuss the important role [the New York Times] venture plays in promoting U.S.-Turkish relations.—

The New York Times on Monday published a story about the loopholes in Congressional travel rules that allow Members to accept costly trips paid for by private interests, but the story did not mention Whitfield’s trip.