A foreign government reportedly paid over $US100,000 for a trip taken by 10 members of Congress in a potential violation of House rules and federal law.
According to a detailed report by the Washington Post, in 2013, Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil company allegedly spent $US750,000 to send US lawmakers to a conference in the country’s capital city, Baku. The Post said Azerbaijan then attempted to conceal the donations by funelling the money through two US non-profits, which purchased plane tickets for 10 lawmakers, their spouses and staff.
The Post said they obtained the details through leaked findings of an investigation that was conducted by the Office of Congressional Ethics.
The investigation reveals that the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) funded airfare for lawmakers and their spouses totalling $US112,899. At the conference, lawmakers reportedly received numerous expensive gifts, including rugs, silk scarves, and tea sets.
Nine members of Congress then failed to report these gifts, many of which vastly exceeded the $US350 threshold over which lawmakers must disclose gifts.
The ten lawmakers involved reportedly said they were unaware that the two non-profits who funded the trip – the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians and the Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan – received money for the trip from the Azerbaijani government.
According to the Post, the members who attended were Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma), Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-New York), Rep. Danny Davis (D-Illinois), Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-New Mexico), Rep. Reuben Hinoja (D-Texas), Rep. Leonard Lance (R-New Jersey), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-New York), Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), former Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas), and Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio).
The gifts and airfare represent a potential violation of Congressional rules and federal law. Lawmakers are barred from accepting money from foreign governments. Though the members claimed that they did not know that the money came from Azerbaijan, the report found that this may not be enough to exempt the members from legal repercussions.
SOCAR and several other companies that sponsored the conference had lobbied to receive an exemption from US oil sanctions on Iran, which borders Azerbaijan. Investigators reportedly did not prove that the members of Congress attempted to leverage their Congressional influence to help the company.
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