Monday, December 20, 2010

POLITICS - Congressional Trips and Advocacy

"Private Links in Lawmaker’s Trip Abroad" by ERIC LIPTON, New York Times 12/19/2010


When Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, visited Honduras early this year to congratulate the newly elected president, the congressman showed up with an unusual delegation.

There at his side was not just the typical collection of Washington foreign policy aides, but also a group of California real estate investors and businessmen, including a dealer in rare coins, and top executives from a fledgling San Diego biofuels company run by a friend of the congressman’s wife.

Using his status as a senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Rohrabacher cheered his hosts in Honduras by openly challenging the Obama administration’s foreign policy agenda there, then arranged a series of meetings with top Honduran officials, including the president, during which the congressman “enthusiastically promoted” the biofuel company’s plans to perhaps set up operations in Honduras, says a State Department summary of the meetings included in the files obtained by WikiLeaks.

The country was eager to accommodate the congressman — who said in an interview that his actions were entirely appropriate and reflected his activist approach to foreign policy — given that the previous Honduran president had been forced out of office and into exile, and the new government was angling for United States support.

Mr. Rohrabacher’s three-day trip to Tegucigalpa and his advocacy for SG Biofuels, a small company run by a family friend, stood out from the dozens of written reports detailing summaries of official visits by members of Congress to foreign nations that were included in the vast trove of State Department documents obtained by the WikiLeaks group and reviewed by The New York Times.

These memos — written by State Department officials who often sit in on lawmakers’ meetings with foreign leaders — show that Congressional trips are often much more than simply fact-finding missions. Members of Congress at times push their own foreign policy agendas, even if they conflict with those of the administration in office.

OK. Aside from the family-interest link in the example above, since when is it wrong (as implied) for an elected official to champion his/her state's economic interests? This is what I would EXPECT an elected official from my state to do (minus any family-link), which makes these visits cost effective (worth my taxes).

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