Josh Ruebner who works with "The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation" has done some digging into the matter of US congress representatives trips to Israel. 81 reps. - nearly 20% of the house - are participating in all expenses paid junkets organized by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF) "a so-called charitable affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most influential of the myriad pro-Israel lobbying outfits."
Looking into the connections between AIEF and AIPAC, Ruebner exposed the fact that AIEF seems to be a front group for AIPAC, not an independent entity, and that as such - has no legal right to organize such trips.
Based on these revelations, CODEPINK has filed a formal complaint with the Congressional Ethics Committee, calling for an investigation of these junkets.
Josh Ruebner: Robbing Peter to Pay Israel
August 12, 2011
Nearly 20 percent of the constituents of Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) live under the poverty line, and nearly 15 percent are unemployed. Jackson's congressional district, covering parts of the south side of Chicago and its southern suburbs, has been hit harder than many others by the crises plaguing the economy. Many of his constituents are looking at even more cutbacks in social services, higher prices for food and fuel, and ever scarcer jobs.
During this August congressional recess, Rep. Jackson, Jr. should be at home, meeting with constituents and proposing to them how he will help them cope with their difficult circumstances. Instead, the politician is proudly gallivanting around Israel, in one of three separate congressional delegations heading there this month on all-expense-paid junkets organized by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), a so-called charitable affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most influential of the myriad pro-Israel lobbying outfits.
In total, 81 representatives, nearly one-fifth of the entire House, will participate in these jaunts, which, according to The Washington Post, include "a round-trip flight in business class for lawmakers and their spouses (that alone is worth about $8,000), fine hotels and meals, side trips, and transportation and guides."
Of course, these congressional delegations are not all fun and games. Members of Congress will be expected to sing for their lavish dinners by honoring President Bush's 2007 pledge to provide the Israeli military with $30 billion of tax-payer-funded weapons between 2009 and 2018. So far, proposed increases in military aid to Israel have been spared from the budgetary chopping block by President Obama and a compliant Congress that treats Israeli militarism as more sacrosanct than medical care for seniors. This despite the fact that Israel misuses the funds, in violation of the Arms Export Control Act, to commit human rights abuses against Palestinians living under its illegal 44-year military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip.
According to aidtoisrael.org, constituents in Illinois' 2nd congressional district will be asked to cough up an astonishing $53 million in federal taxes as their pound of flesh for the Israeli military during this 10-year period. With this same amount of money, each year the federal government instead could give 650 low-income families housing vouchers, or retrain nearly 900 unemployed workers for green jobs, or fund early reading programs for nearly 1,600 at-risk children, or provide primary health care to more than 43,000 uninsured people in Rep. Jackson's congressional district.
Yali Amit, an Israeli-American constituent of Rep. Jackson, Jr. called his office to oppose his participation in the trip to Israel. He was told that Rep. Jackson, Jr. wants to learn what is happening there because of his position on the appropriations subcommittee that approves military aid to Israel. Amit retorted that "you can't learn what goes on there on a paid trip of a propaganda arm of the Israeli government." And you certainly can't learn about the devastating impact that these U.S. weapons have on unarmed Palestinian civilians, nearly 3,000 of whom were killed by the Israeli military over the last decade.
The House Committee on Ethics should open an investigation to determine if it is even legal for Members of Congress to be participating in junkets organized by AIEF. The guidelines of the committee are as bright and clear as the midday sun on a Tel Aviv beach in August. "The travel provisions of the gift rule severely limit the ability of Members and staff to accept travel from an entity that employs or retains a registered lobbyist or a registered agent of a foreign principal." (Emphasis in original.)
Legistorm, which tracks congressional travel, explains that "even though AIPAC's primary purpose is lobbying, its nonprofit arm [AIEF] appears to provide a loophole for sponsored travel." However, this eureka loophole that AIPAC uses does not withstand scrutiny. According to the latest publicly available tax return of AIEF, the organization has no paid employees -- an astounding feat in itself for an organization that raked in more than $26 million in 2009 and a mind-blowing accomplishment for an organization running three huge congressional delegations in one month.
An examination of AIPAC's latest publicly available tax return reveals the sleight of hand. AIPAC reports that in 2009, it very generously contributed more than $3.2 million of employee salaries to cover the staff costs of AIEF. In other words, a 501(c)(4) organization with registered lobbyists is paying for the staff of a 501(c)(3) organization to run congressional delegations that cannot be funded by an organization that employs registered lobbyists.
Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen who helped draft the new post-Abramoff federal lobbying and ethics reform legislation signed into law in 2007, agrees that something is rotten in state of AIPAC. According to Holman, "The House ethics rules do not provide an exemption for 501(c)(3)s that are controlled and directed by a lobbying entity to pay for travel junkets for members of Congress. When the ethics rules were written in 2007 as part of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA), an exemption for 501(c)(3)s was written into the Senate rules – which I called the 'AIPAC' loophole – but the House under Speaker Pelosi stuck to strict travel rules for its members and declined to poke a comparable loophole into its ethics rules.
"Even if there were such a loophole in House rules," Holman continues, "which there isn't, it appears that the 501(c)(3) wing of AIPAC is little more than a front group designed to extend its lobbying activities beyond Capitol Hill. From 2000 to 2006, lobbyist Richard Kessler similarly attempted to evade the ethics rule prohibiting lobbyist- sponsored travel junkets by setting up a 501(c)(3) that he directly controlled to pay for the trips. HLOGA was passed in 2007 to end these types of evasions."
Constituents should be irate that members of Congress accept fancy trips from AIPAC-affiliates and contributions from AIPAC-inspired political action committee (PACs) that result in the United States prioritizing weapons to Israel above our basic economic rights. And the Committee on Ethics must investigate AIPAC's skirting of travel regulations and shut down these trips that it has until now allowed.
Adam Horowitz: CODEPINK calls for investigation into 'AIPAC loophole' for Israel junkets
Aug 15, 2011
CODEPINK sent out the following press release earlier today:
The peace group CODEPINK has filed a formal complaint with the Congressional Ethics Committee, calling for an investigation of the junkets to Israel paid for by the powerful Israel lobby AIPAC but channeled through their educational front group, The American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF). This summer recess, a staggering 81 Congresspeople—one out of five members—are participating in these trips.
According to the House Ethics Rules, Congress is prohibited from participating in any multiple-day trip that is planned, organized, requested, or arranged by a lobbyist. AIPAC skirts the law by funneling the trips through AIEF.
According to the latest publicly available tax returns, in 2009 AIEF did not even have paid staff, relying on AIPAC employees to do its work. AIPAC contributed more than $3.2 million of employee salaries to cover the staff costs of AIEF in 2009. In other words, a 501(c)(4) organization with registered lobbyists is paying for the staff of a 501(c)(3) organization to run congressional delegations that cannot legally be funded by an organization that employs registered lobbyists.
"AIPAC barely tries to hide that fact that AIEF is a front group," says CODEPINK cofounder Medea Benjamin, who filed the complaint. "The groups are housed in the same offices, have overlapping boards of directors, share staff, employ the same Chief Financial Officer and are constantly moving funds from one entity to another. It's time for Congress to put an end to this charade by closing the AIPAC loophole."
Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen who helped draft federal lobbying and ethics reform legislation signed into law in 2007, agrees. "The House ethic rules do not allow a non-profit group like AIEF, which is controlled and directed by the lobby group AIPAC, to pay for travel junkets for members of Congress. This AIPAC loophole is rendering the travel rules meaningless and should be stopped," says Holman.
"With constituents facing severe economic hardships, Representatives should be home in their districts during this August recess to tell voters how they will dig us out the mess they've created," says Josh Ruebner, the national advocacy director at the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. "Instead many of them are spending part of their recess in Israel on a lobbyist-funded trip, being pressured into even more tax-payer-funded weapons for the Israeli military, weapons used to commit human rights abuses against Palestinians."
CODEPINK, which organizes citizen diplomacy delegations to Israel and Palestine, including Gaza, believes these AIPAC trips give the participants a skewed view that hides the oppressive nature of the Israeli government. "The trips are designed to push the U.S. Congress into supporting AIPAC policies of unconditional support for the Israel government, such as continuing to give $3 billion of our taxdollars to Israel and vetoing the upcoming Palestinian call for statehood at the UN," said Benjamin. "AIPAC puts the interests of Israel before U.S. interests, which makes these Congressional junkets dangerous and downright un-American."
Jewish Peace News editors:
Sarah Anne Minkin
Lincoln Z. Shlensky
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