The U.S. Senate passed a measure last week that bans most lobbyist-paid travel for lawmakers, but provides allowances for travel to meetings and conventions. The bill will become law once it’s approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, which is expected.
According to the legislation, which is part of the larger ethics and lobbying reform bills, lobbyists and private groups can pay for Senators to attend meetings if the trip is first approved by a Senate ethics committee. To be approved by the ethics committee, the meeting must be deemed to have educational value for attendees.
The new rule is a compromise from an initial proposal that would have banned lobbyist-paid travel for members of Congress completely. The American Society of Association Executives lobbied hard against a total travel ban, citing the educational value of having lawmakers attend meetings as speakers and guests.
“We’re encouraged by what we’re seeing so far on the travel rules,” says Chris Vest, director, public policy at ASAE, an association that retains lobbyists. Non-profit 501c3 associations would also be allowed to pay for congressional travel to attend their meetings.
The paid trips, however, are limited to one or two days only. Outside groups can pay for hotel and commercial airfare only—no corporate jets, entertainment, or ancillary expenses outside of the meeting. It’s unclear at this point what the approval process will look like, says Vest, but as long as the meeting is educational and not considered to be a boondoggle, getting approval by the oversight committee shouldn’t be a problem.
Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives agreed to similar internal rules. For the ethics reform package to become law, the House needs to approve the Senate legislation.