Congressional travel continued to trend upwards in 2015, with both the number of trips and their costs reaching new heights since 2005.
The final numbers for 2015 show members of Congress and their staffs took 2,175 trips worth nearly $6.2 million. Both are high-water marks since congressional travel rules were strengthened following the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Both, however, pale in comparison to 2005's pre-reform totals, with 4,917 trips at nearly $10 million.
The Congressional Institute sponsored the most trips in 2015, accounting for more than a quarter. All of the institute's 547 sponsored trips in 2015 were taken by Republicans. However, the American Israel Education Foundation spent the most money funding congressional travel in 2015, paying $1.3 million to bring 49 Democrats and 40 Republicans to the West Bank and Israel.
The West Bank and Israel also were the most common destinations for privately financed trips in 2015, with 269 excursions and $3.8 million spent between the two. A distant third was Germany, which was visited 62 times for $619,381. Canada and Guatemala rounded out the top five for popular destinations. Tanzania vaulted to the fourth spot for total travel costs — $376,277.
For the second straight year, Cuba proved to be a hotspot, hosting 22 congressional trips for $61,614. Sixteen of those trips were sponsored by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, which brought three parties into Havana — one at the end of May and two in mid-October.
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) led Congress with seven trips in 2015. However, he came in second for total costs, at $45,593, behind only Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), whose trips to Berlin and Israel cost $46,734.