A global energy exploration firm has sponsored congressional travel to an oil-rich region of northern Iraq this month, highlighting how companies that have lobbied can legally pay for travel despite a ban on most travel sponsored by firms that lobby.
Philip Simshauser, an aide to Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) who was among a dozen listed participants in the delegation to Kurdistan, was the first to file a report about the trip. The five-day jaunt was sponsored by Humpty Dumpty Institute and Aspect Energy LLC. Aspect spent $930,000 starting in 2008 to lobby the federal government, which would have prohibited it from sponsoring congressional travel had it not terminated its lobbying activities in 2010.
While most of the trip involved meeting local government officials, academics and business leaders, nearly a full day was spent conducting site visits and roundtables with U.S. companies operating in Kurdistan. The Humpty Dumpty Institute described trip funding this way: "Aspect Energy has given the HDI a grant to organize and conduct a U.S. congressional staff delegation to the Kurdistan region of Iraq to interact with the Kurdistan Regional Government, the local NGO community and media outlets, the U.S. Consulate in Erbil and business leaders."
Aspect has investments dating back to 2007 in Kurdistan's oil plays, according to its website. In 2010, the company began drilling its first well in Kurdistan. Aspect's lobbying disclosures from 2008-2010 focus on the firm's extensive investments in oil and gas exploration in Central and Eastern Europe.