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Washington’s ethics rules are absolutely bonkers! Take the case of powerhouse lobbyist Don Bonker.
In 2007, to restrict the power of such influence peddlers, Congress passed a reform that prohibits lobbyists from paying lawmakers to go on foreign junkets. So, how is it that Bonker was able to pick up the $15,000 tab for Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner and his wife to enjoy a week long junket to Liechtenstein last February? The answer lies in a loophole that exempts non-profit organizations from the ban on financing congressional trips. So, the Sensenbrenners’ Liechtenstein outing was paid for by the International Management and Development Institute, a non-profit outfit. And who is president of the Institute? Why none other than our man, Don Bonker!
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But, the gaming of the ethics rules is even more bonkers, for the Institute is funded by such European corporations as Deutsche Bank and Lufthansa Airlines. While these corporate interests, which lobby in Washington, could not directly pay for Sensenbrenner’s junket – which included skiing, sumptuous meals, and a tour of the Prince of Liechtenstein’s historic wine cellar – the loophole lets corporations pay for the trip indirectly through the non-profit front group. In return, executives of the corporations were given private têtê-a-têtê with the influential Wisconsin Republican.
Clever, huh? So clever that “Air Bonkers” has paid for five of Sensenbrenner’s trips to Europe. The congressman sees nothing amiss in this backroom financing of his junkets – his staff explains that it’s just a way for “a variety of sources [to] educate congressional leaders on a range of topics.”
So, Sensenbrenner is saying that if you want to educate him on your particular topic, just create a non-profit and fly him to a ski resort in Liechtenstein!
“Ethics Rules for Congress Curb but Don’t End Trips,” The New York Times, December 7, 2009.