Democrats on America’s top election oversight agency have regularly accepted lavish junkets funded by foreign governments and organizations.
Since 2002, the Federal Election Commission’s three Democratic members took at least 50 official trips during their combined time serving on the agency, according to documents obtained from public records and Freedom of Information Act requests. Expenses related to the trips were paid by a combination of foreign groups, governments, and by U.S. taxpayers through the agency’s own budget.
According to the records, which come from the Office of Governmental Ethics and FEC records published by The Hill’s Rudy Takala, none of the FEC’s three Republican commissioners have ever taken a single agency-related international trip while serving on the commission.
Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, who has engaged in more sponsored trips than any of her colleagues, sought last month to stoke fears over the influence that she said foreign money could have had on the 2016 election, claiming that Russia might have bought ads on Facebook aimed at influencing the American electorate.
“I have spoken out on many occasions about my concern about the potential for foreign money creeping into our system,” Weintraub said in an interview on CNN. “I’ve tried on numerous occasions to introduce stronger rules to the FEC to try and ward that off.”
Weintraub has ironically used the prospect of “foreign money” to threaten online outlets such as the Drudge Report, claiming that countries including Russia could place political ads online if the feds don’t impose more regulations.
But that concern has not translated into any fewer trips by Weintraub and her Democratic colleagues.
Records reveal Weintraub has taken at least 30 foreign trips since she joined the agency in 2003. The non-profit International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), for instance, paid more than $9000 for Weintraub to spend over a week in Indonesia. In another instance, Weintraub met Socialist leaders for a gourmet meal in Albania. Her trips also included junkets to the Philippines, Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador.
FEC Chairman Steven Walther has taken 11 trips since joining the commission in 2008, including trips to Russia and Moldova. American taxpayers were stuck paying $525 for Walther’s Russian visa in 2011.
Former Commissioner Ann Ravel crammed in nine trips from the time she joined the FEC in 2013 until she stepped down in March of 2017.
The purpose of the trips ranged from attending political conferences to observing foreign elections, and spanned more than two dozen countries covering five continents.
The total amount that Democrats have spent on the travel is unclear. Agency documentation is far from complete, and Ravel left the commission while several FOIA requests were still pending.
Ravel’s departure from the agency coincided with an unusual tussle over the issue, coming less than a month after she rescinded a request to travel to Ecuador to observe that country’s election. She withdrew the request, in part, as a result of an objection from Republican FEC Commissioner Lee Goodman, who said Ravel had become the commission’s most frequent traveler in recent memory.
“I began questioning Commissioner Ravel’s foreign funded trips for several reasons,” Goodman told The Daily Caller. “I was concerned that too much foreign paid hospitality for one commissioner would reflect poorly on the agency.”
Goodman argued that it was hypocritical to punish politicians for accepting foreign cash when members of the commission were free to accept it, and said he believed commissioners could fulfill any responsibility for civic engagement without leaving home.
“I’ve spoken to many foreign delegations visiting the United States who stop by the FEC,” said Goodman. “The top claim on my time and focus is here in America.”
Proponents of the practice of international jet setting by FEC commissioners say that Democrats were fulfilling civic responsibilities around the globe. But critics argue that it’s inappropriate for regulators to accept overseas funding for such trips, especially with foreign influence over the American government under deep scrutiny.