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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Charlie Crist enjoys the perk of office: An all expenses paid trip to Israel



Rep. Charlie Crist left today for a weeklong trip to Israel funded by a group tied to a powerfuly lobbying interest.

The trip, attended by other freshmen members of Congress, is paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation, which is an arm of the lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC gets around restrictions on privately paid travel by using the educational arm, an arrangement government watchdogs have criticized.

One of its major funders is Sheldon Adelson.

In a news release, Crist's office said he would "travel to Israel to learn firsthand about the regional challenges and America’s strategic relationship with Israel. During this educational trip, the Congressman and other members of the House will have a rigorous schedule of meetings with key Israeli and Palestinian leaders, including government officials, Knesset members, military leaders, defense experts, journalists, and entrepreneurs.

"Additionally, the delegation will visit key strategic sites including defense and technology projects; the Golan Heights; the Gaza, Syrian, and Lebanon borders; Jewish, Christian, and Islamic holy sites; and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum. Through these meetings and site visits, the members will gain a better understanding of the security, diplomatic, and economic issues vital to the region and the U.S.-Israel relationship. The trip is sponsored by the American Israel Educational Foundation (AIEF), a charitable organization affiliated with AIPAC that works to inform the public about Israel, the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship, and issues affecting the Middle East."

A decade ago, the House banned groups from paying for extended trips as part of the fallout from the scandal over lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But a loophole allowed educational foundations to pick up the tab. The Israel trips are estimated at $10,000 per person.

"Members of Congress feel indebted to someone who provides them with a week's long vacation. It's lobbying and it's more effective than direct lobbying on Capitol Hill," Craig Holman of the watchdog group Public Citizen, who helped draft the 2007 laws, told the Tampa Bay Times in 2013.

He said the loophole has been steadily abused and privately-paid travel is back to pre-reform levels.

"This is not what lobbying should be about," Holman said. "It should be about providing information and expertise so lawmakers can make better decisions, not trying to buy their favors with gifts and travel junkets."

[Last modified: Tuesday, August 1, 2017 9:52am]


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