Lobbyists to attend Republican retreat

Jan. 22, 2009 at 4:12 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Lobbyists who paid $25,000 for board seats will join U.S. GOP lawmakers at a retreat where they will be able to talk about business interests, lawmakers say.

The lobbyists from the non-profit Congressional Institute will not participate in a closed-door caucus planning session at the GOP's annual winter retreat in Hot Springs, Va., but they will be invited to a reception and dinner and spend the night, the institute's president told United Press International in response to an earlier report from the Washington newspaper The Hill.

"Such a courtesy for a tax-exempt organization's supporters is commonplace and within ethical rules," Mark Strand said in an e-mail to UPI.

The institute conducts research and hosts seminars on topics including healthcare, taxes, energy and the environment for Republican lawmakers.

Its "educational mission supports the Congress and helps the public better understand their legislature," Strand's e-mail said.

The institute is run by lobbyists and other supporters who pay "annual voluntary dues" to serve on the institute's board, Strand told UPI.

"Board members are not required to pay dues to serve on the board, though many do," his e-mail said.

The Hill called the $25,000 a "fee for serving on the Institute's board."

No one attending the GOP conference is breaking any House rules because House rules don't address travel put together by a non-profit organization with lobbyists as board members, The Hill said.

Strand told UPI the institute "has complied with all legal and ethical obligations in its 23-year existence."

A GOP conference spokesman told The Hill the ethics panel had approved the retreat, which will be open to reporters.

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