Back in August, Roll Call reported on a swanky trip to Ireland for a contingent of influential (and mostly Republican) members of Congress. Described as the "type of free trip not only covers the members’ expenses but provides a rare opportunity for the sponsor to cover the costs of a spouse or family member," the trip's four-hour workdays and generous accommodations for Member and spouse harkened back to the "good old days" of lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Today, instead of a more directly Abramoff-style scheme of lobbying clients paying for junkets, the funding for this trip to Ireland was handled by the Franklin Center for Global Policy Exchange, which the New York Times describes as an organization that "seems to exist largely to sponsor Congressional travel."
Among the invited guests on this August trip to Ireland was Colorado's up-and-coming Republican congressman, Rep. Cory Gardner. At the time of Roll Call's original story, expense reports for most of the members of Congress who attended hasn't been turned in yet. But as the Colorado Independent's John Tomasic reports today:
Colorado Rep Cory Gardner and his wife Jaime took a $17,000, five-day trip to Ireland in August, paid for by the Republican Party Ripon Society and the big business-backed Franklin Center.
Gardner didn’t return calls months ago asking him whether he went on the trip but the expense reports are now available online.
On August 9, he and his wife flew to Dublin with two $7,000 roundtrip business-class tickets. They returned August 15. It was the opening week of the end-of-summer congressional recess. They spent $3,000 on lodging, local transportation and food.
Gardner was invited along with many other members of Congress, from both parties. The list included House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Erik Cantor. Gardner was asked to join a panel on energy security to discuss oil exploration off the Irish coast. Attendees took time between meetings to visit attractions like the Irish parliament buildings and the Guinness Storehouse.
There's nothing to indicate any laws or ethics rules were broken, mostly because the people who like setting up these junkets have gotten smart enough to set up plausibly deniable shells to run the money through. Obviously, no one will ever know the nature of discussions Gardner had in private on this trip. As Tomasic notes, though, it's "the kind of congressional perk that has come to be expected on the part of officeholders and the cynical public, just another opportunity for wealthy interests to further their agendas through close proximity to lawmakers and the promise of future all-expense-paid getaways."
And as he has demonstrated well before this latest junket, Gardner is all about the perks.