CODEPINK calls for investigation into ‘AIPAC loophole’ for Israel junkets

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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.”

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