Monday, December 07, 2009

Rules or no rules, Sensenbrenner still flying high

The House of Representatives can pass all the stinking rules it wants, but nothing's going to get in between Jim Sensenbrenner and a free junket.

That's the message in today's New York Times story, where Sensenbrenner gets top billing in the top story on page one:
WASHINGTON — Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., a Wisconsin Republican, toured a prince’s vineyard and castle in Liechtenstein and spent an afternoon at a ski resort in the Alps — all at the expense of a group of European companies.
Sensenbrenner has long been at or near the top of the Freddy Freeloader list of Congressional members taking trips at anybody's expense but their own. Even though he is a multi-millionaire, he's a tightwad looking for every freebie he can scarf up.

The House has tried to crack down on the practice of flying at lobbyists' expense (it looks unseemly), but left more than enough loopholes in the law for Big Jim and his wife to fly right through. More from the Times:
While lobbyists are not supposed to pay for a lawmaker’s travel, for example, Mr. Sensenbrenner’s $14,708 trip to Liechtenstein and Germany in 2009 was organized by a nonprofit group whose president is a lobbyist. It was underwritten by European companies that, in many cases, lobby in the United States...

When Mr. Sensenbrenner and Representative Tom Price, Republican of Georgia, traveled to Liechtenstein in February to learn about its banking system, they attended business meetings. But they and their wives also visited the Malbun ski resort, stayed at a first-class hotel and toured the wine cellar at the prince of Liechtenstein’s historic vineyard, according to their itinerary.

The cost of the trip — $14,708 for Mr. Sensenbrenner and his wife alone — was picked up by a nonprofit group called the International Management and Development Institute. Just since 2005, International Management has paid for 34 trips to Europe for lawmakers and staff members, totaling more than $400,000, including five for Mr. Sensenbrenner to Germany, Liechtenstein, Norway and France.

The trips were largely financed by contributions from companies like Deutsche Bank and Lufthansa, which have American lobbyists and therefore would have been prohibited from directly paying for the weeklong trips. Top executives at these companies were often offered special meetings with the lawmakers. The president of the institute, Don Bonker, is a Washington lobbyist, whose firm, APCO Worldwide, has served as a registered agent for the German government.

Foreign agents are also prohibited from sponsoring travel.

Because International Management is an American nonprofit and does not retain a lobbyist, none of the rules applied. As a result, a group of big corporations were able to indirectly pay for a weeklong visit to Europe, and their executives got to meet with powerful lawmakers.

Mr. Bonker, the lobbyist, and Mr. Sensenbrenner, the congressman, said they stuck to the rules, and that the trips had been approved beforehand by the House ethics staff.
Sensebrenner's flack explained with this bit of gobbledegook:
“Many organizations that are seeking to educate Congressional leaders on a range of topics receive money from a variety of sources to better enable them to do so, without any cost to taxpayers,” Wendy Riemann, a spokeswoman for Mr. Sensenbrenner, said in a written statement.
Right. Thanks for clearing that up, Wendy.