Special interest groups spent more than $100,000 to provide free trips to lawmakers during the August recess. While this is nothing new, the members of Congress who are given these frequently lavish trips can obviously be expected to remember who paid for them when it comes time to vote on relevant legislation. Tracking these trips and how they might influence lawmakers will always be productive for anyone wary about potential financial influences.
Hundreds of lawmakers take special interest trips
Hundreds of members of Congress have taken advantage of offers from private special interest groups to travel to various countries and states in 2021.
In a typical year there might be millions spent by the private sector on these trips for lawmakers. The pandemic has likely decreased the frequency of these outings.
A special interest group which pays for an upscale trip to be taken by a member of Congress clearly must want to get something out of the experience, but for lawmakers themselves there are some justifications which might seem to deflect some criticisms.
Traveling to gain firsthand knowledge about issues which they might be expected to vote on is important for any member who wishes to be informed about the decisions they are asked to make.
If the special interest groups were not paying for these trips themselves then they would be funded by taxpayers.
A traveling representative might point this out and tell his or her constituents that they are merely avoiding the use of tax dollars to learn about an issue.
This may be true but it does not change the fact that the special interests have, by nature, interests which they expect to promote by funding these trips for lawmakers.
It is not unreasonable to have concerns about how extensively these trips might be influencing votes given that this is presumably the intention behind a majority of them.
Top staffers for lawmakers are also sent on these trips and what they have to say to their members will inevitably turn out to be very influential.
One trip was intended to promote the extended use of telemedicine, which connects doctors and patients remotely and has been widely used during the pandemic.
Lawmakers are learning about this subject through companies which would gain financially from extending its use. They may not be hearing from doctors and patients who recognize that in person visits cannot be replaced by cheaper remote alternatives.
Even if the members who take these special interest trips do not feel beholden to the people who pay for them they are still learning about subjects from people who have interests in seeing lawmakers vote a certain way. Some influence on votes is inevitable.