Light on private cash for Congress' travel

Aug. 22, 2012 at 9:39 AM
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 22 (UPI) -- A U.S. lawmaker's nude dip in the Sea of Galilee pushed the practice of private groups underwriting foreign travel back to the front burner, observers say.

Bill Allison, editorial director for the Sunlight Foundation, said the controversy points up the problems with congressional travel underwritten by private concerns that remain despite restrictions meant to choke abuses, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

"What this says is that these kinds of trips are still happening, because these groups want to influence those members of Congress, to make them sympathetic to the host's interests," Allison said. Sunlight Foundation is a Washington group dedicated to government transparency.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., has acknowledged he skinny-dipped in the religiously significant Sea of Galilee while on a 2011 tour with other GOP lawmakers, staff and family. Yoder was the only one who disrobed when an evening of drinking led to a jump into the lake by about 20 members of the Republican entourage. Some other lawmakers partially disrobed and others went in fully clothed.

Responding to the controversy over the nude swimming, the American Israel Education Foundation, which has underwritten 733 such trips since 2000, said its trips were "intensely substantive and filled from morning until evening with educational discussions and meetings with government officials" on regional threats and other issues.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the second-ranking House Democrat, said Tuesday the behavior by some of the GOP delegation was disrespectful but shouldn't "reflect poorly on congressional visits to Israel sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation -- trips I have participated in that present a rigorous, serious and educational opportunity to understand the complex challenges Israel faces."

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