Despite 2007’s rules limiting congressional junkets to reduce corporate influence in Washington, nonprofit corporations don’t seem to be listening.
Before the ink was dry on the new policy — spurred by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s misdeeds — the American Association for Justice, i.e., the trial lawyers’ trade group, shipped Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and a key staffer to Puerto Rico in early 2008 for "a women’s caucus brunch."
The fact that Wasserman Schultz sat on both the House Appropriations and Judiciary committees at the time got the Washington wink wink — that is to say, the spin was that the trial lawyer junket clearly was not lobbying, it was just so she could give a speech. And cementing relations with a free January trip to a nice 80-degree Caribbean island had nothing to do with her later support for Obamacare without any cap on malpractice lawyer awards.
Jungle junket: Two private foundations that are not supposed to lobby (except for four major loopholes in the IRS tax code) paid for 20 congressional staffers — seven from the House and 13 from the Senate — to gather in lush, mountainous Costa Rica for a four-day course on "International Forest Carbon Policy for U.S. Decision-Makers."
The course title and the participants tipped Washington’s most-guarded secret about who in Congress really writes our laws.
Why these 20? All handled some aspect of "cap-and-trade/climate legislation," according to their travel authorization forms.
The Packard Foundation ($4.6 billion assets) and the Moore Foundation ($4.5 billion assets) — both ferociously anti-industry Big Green donors — worked with the Organization for Tropical Studies to create the course content and curriculum, which was crammed with lectures on deforestation causing greenhouse gas emissions, studies of carbon financing schemes and hands-on GIS laboratory exercises.
The printed program asked, "Why Costa Rica?" and the opening lecture was titled, "Why link tropical forests and U.S. policy?" The course explained everything except the real reasons.
Those with long memories recall that the 1997 Kyoto Protocol excluded deforestation from its rules (measuring and monitoring were impossible), so Costa Rica and other developing countries set up a "forests-for-climate" alliance, the Coalition of Rainforest Nations, to get subsidies for not cutting timber and to sell the resulting — and possibly imaginary — carbon offsets to rich nations.
The World Bank had set up its Forest Carbon Partnership Facility to broker the offsets just before this Costa Rica junket, and the United Nations was still organizing its "Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation" program (UN-REDD). The timing was perfect to "link tropical forests and U.S. policy" in this international Enron-style let’s-sell-paper-instead-of-products scam.
This junket wasn’t propaganda, but education (Washington wink wink). Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., accompanied the 20 staffers, lending status — but when it was all over, her name somehow didn’t appear on the participant list, only on a lone Senate travel authorization.
Tech junket: Last April, the Center for American Progress — the Washington think tank of former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta — paid $14,000 each for six Senate staffers to visit China and "study investments in developing clean energy technology." That’s so transparently part of the Democrats’ "China’s doing it, so we should do it" campaign for wind and solar subsidies it doesn’t even merit a single Washington wink.
Sweetheart junkets: The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation loves one House staffer so much they sent him to Hawaii in January 2001, to Key West in January 2002, to Puerto Rico in April 2003 and to the Maine coast in August 2004. NFWF was created by Congress, but is funded by both government and private donations — and gives money not just for crony junkets, but also to lawsuit-crazy greenies who sue the government. Why are we giving tax dollars to NFWF?
Examiner contributor Ron Arnold is the executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.