Lawmakers and their staff broke a record for taking the most privately funded trips since 2007, when reforms came into effect after a major lobbying scandal.
In 2013, members of Congress and their staff made nearly 1900 trips costing $6 million, breaking the record for the most privately sponsored travel since rules were tightened in 2007. By comparison the previous post-reform high was 2011, when privately financed travel cost $5.8 million for 1600 trips.
The Congressional Institute, a group that bills itself as non-partisan but is run by top Republican lobbyists and former staff, was the biggest sponsor of trips in 2013. The organization sponsored large retreats for top staff, paying for 474 Republicans to go in all.
Of foreign destinations Israel topped the list, with more than $2 million paid. Most of the travel was funded by the American Israel Education Foundation, a wing of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. Turkey, India, Ethiopia and Azerbaijan rounded out the top five slots for most expensive foreign destinations.
This was the first time Ethiopia and Azerbaijan have been popular travel destinations since 2000, when LegiStorm's travel database begins. The Aspen Institute sponsored the trip to Ethiopia to study development in Africa. The August recess travel to Ethiopia included 23 members of Congress and staff and lasted six days, costing more than $300,000. Travel to Azerbaijan took place mainly at the end of May for the U.S.-Azerbaijan Convention and to meet with the country's political and business leaders. The major sponsors for these trips were the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians, the Turkic American Alliance, organizations for Turkic ethnic populations.
The travels of Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) cost private sponsors the most in 2013. His trips to Ethiopia, Turkey and Sudan totaled about $70,000. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) took the most trips of any lawmaker last year with 11 trips, mostly to appear on ABC News shows or at Progressive Institute events.