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Caught Our Eye

Interest groups continue to spend big on congressional travel

Posted by Keturah Hetrick on Jan. 16, 2018

Congressional members and staff sure wanted to escape Washington last year — and private travel sponsors spent the most money since 2005 helping them do just that.

Interest groups spent more than $6.30 million on congressional travel in 2017, up from $4.46 million and $6.20 million spent in 2016 and 2015, respectively.

Travel among Republican members and their aides cost more overall ($3.37 million vs. $2.90 million spent on Democrats), with private groups spending $939,000 on domestic trips for Republicans compared to only $534,000 for their Democratic counterparts. International travel saw smaller partisan spending differences, with $2.43 million spent on Republican travel and $2.37 million spent on Democrats.

While domestic trips made up three-quarters of congressional travel, the U.S. was far from the most expensive travel destination: 147 trips to Israel cost $2.16 million, dwarfing the $1.49 million spent on all domestic travel combined.

That's thanks almost entirely to the American Israel Education Foundation, a sister organization to the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbying group. AIEF spent nearly $1.92 million on congressional travel last year, more than any other single sponsor.

AIEF and other interest groups spend big on international travel in the hopes of making and influencing congressional allies, who get immersed for days in issues from the organization's point of view.