Friday, May 18, 2012

Lobbying disguised as cultural exchange

For members of congress, "participation in officially-connected travel that is in any way planned, organized, requested, or arranged by a lobbyist is prohibited."  Yet here is a long and detailed Pro Publica story on extensive violations of this rule.   They have incriminating email and other records showing a cycle of money and influence in lobbyist efforts to increase congress members' attention to issues involving Taiwan.  The quid pro quo between foreign governments and U.S. officials was initially disguised as a cultural exchange under the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act (MECEA):
Once a program is approved — Taiwan's was OK'd in 2006 — members of Congress can take a qualifying trip paid by that government.
But Owens' trip was not paid under MECEA, which strictly applies to programs funded by foreign governments.  Instead, a private entity — the Chinese Culture University — was brought in to pay for it. Spouses and other family members are not allowed to go on MECEA trips, and Owens' wife was to accompany him, emails show.
...Why was the school paying for the trip? In a filing with the House Ethics Committee, the school explained: "The Chinese Culture University aims to promote international cultural exchanges in order for it to thrive in a world increasingly engineered by an irresistible thrust towards globalization."
...The congressman doesn't appear to have voted on any Taiwan issues since he returned in January. In July, just before the trip planning got under way, Park Strategies' King asked Boughtin to have the congressman sign a letter supporting [an] F-16 sale to Taiwan. 
Boughtin emailed him back: "[W]e're on board. All set!" 
Owens' spokesman said the Taiwan letter and the trip were unrelated. Nearly 200 other lawmakers also signed the letter.
Much more at the link. 

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