Ethics Tip: Travel edition

Lobbying firms and individual registered lobbyists are not permitted to sponsor any trips for Congressional members or staff unless an exception for the payment exists under the gift rules.  Typically, the only exemptions are for personal friends, relatives and significant others where significant history of the relationship can be proven.

Organizations that employ lobbyists, however, may sponsor one-day trips for members of Congress or staffers.  They may also offer local transportation for “widely attended events” or to the event site.  Ground transportation must be only occasional, and must be related to the event, not outside entertainment, and must be provided by the event sponsor, not a lobbyist.  Lobbyist involvement in the planning of the trip must be de minimis.  A 501(c)(3) organization may sponsor a multi-day trip for a senator, as long as no lobbyist accompanies the senator on any part of the trip.  There is no such multi-day provision for House representatives.

Private higher education institutions, whether they employ lobbyists or not, can provide three-day domestic trips and seven-day foreign trips, as long as staff lobbyists do not participate in the trip in any way.

Payment for travel is typically only approved to/from Washington, and not for other stopovers not related to the purpose of the trip.  Alcoholic beverages and flights on private or chartered aircrafts are not considered “reasonable expenses,” and therefore cannot be paid for by event sponsors.  Senate rules do not allow for payment of travel expenses for aides or assistants, but do allow for spouses and children to travel on the sponsor.  The House has similar provisions, but does not specify which “relative” can be paid for.

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