A Washington newspaper reports that U.S. lawmakers and their staffs are taking more overseas trips funded by China and other foreign countries, despite new ethics rules.
The Washington Post says a study of Congressional disclosure reports shows that 21 lawmakers took overseas trips funded by foreign governments in 2011, more than double the figure in previous years. The paper said congressional staffers took more than 800 free trips between 2005 and 2011.
Organizers say the trips are an important way for U.S. government staffers to visit other countries at no cost to taxpayers.
But the Post found the staffers who took foreign government-funded trips were contacted by lobbyists for the host nations more than 200 times from 2008 to 2010. The lobbyists sought out the staffers to discuss legislation, or issues concerning trade and foreign relations.
The primary destination for congressional staffers is China. Senior congressional staffers reported taking more than 200 trips to the communist nation over the six-year period, while Taiwan accounted for an additional 100 trips.
Congress overhauled rules for travel by lawmakers and their staffers after a scandal in 2005 involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who paid for lavish trips for several lawmakers and their families before he pleaded guilty to fraud and bribery charges.
But critics say the new rules are inconsistent. Lobbyists are forbidden from buying Congressional staffers an inexpensive cup of coffee, but can invite, plan and accompany a staffer on trips costing $10,000 or more.