An investigative story on the continuing abuse of Congress junkets despite a reform introduced last year contains this gem:
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, on another privately sponsored trip, stayed at the historic King David Hotel in Jerusalem and attended a gala party near the Western Wall as part of a weeklong conference that lobbyists and executives paid as much as $18,500 to attend.
…Doheny Global, of Manhattan, used lawmakers as a lure to attract paying attendance at a meeting in Israel.
Last year Doheny, an energy and real estate investment firm, invited private equity and energy industry executives to pay $18,500 per person to hobnob with “an elite cadre” of public and private powerbrokers, including Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida congresswoman. Doheny paid to fly her and her husband in for the weeklong gathering in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and she appeared in a promotional video calling Irwin G. Katsof, the company’s founder, “a matchmaker for business” who “enjoys great credibility in Congress.”
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen declined to comment on the trips.
The invitation to the 2008 event, which also featured Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, came from a host committee that included registered lobbyists. Depending on how much of a role that committee had in setting up the event, the trip may have violated House rules, which prohibit lawmakers from taking multiday trips “planned, organized, requested or arranged by a lobbyist.”
Her trip was “bought” on her behalf to the tune of $13,600 by the American-Israel Educational Foundation, the non-profit arm of Aipac created specifically for these political junkets. All told AIEF funded 12 trips for Ros-Lehtinen totalling $80,000.
Doheny Global is owned by the billionaire founder of Aish HaTorah, Rabbi Irwin Katsof. He has repeatedly organized such trips in the past. He also has extensive real estate holdings in former republics of the Soviet Union like the Ukraine. At the company’s website, Katsof describes it as:
…A networking and consulting firm dedicated to initiating international partnerships and creating strategic alliances. Global Capital Associates assisted Israeli and Central/Eastern European start-ups in finding US investors and strategic partners, and developed investment banking relationships by capitalizing on an elite, worldwide contact network spanning a diverse range of industries – from defense to high-tech, from the life sciences to finance.
Katsof’s bio boasts that he also founded another Aish subsidiary which serves as a pro-Israel media watchdog/advocacy outfit, Honest Reporting. The directors of Honest Reporting and Aish are the brothers, Rabbis Ephraim and Raphael Shore. Their other brother is a TV writer who created the hit program, House.
I’ve also written before about Katsof’s vanity non-profit project boosted by his Republican friends in Congress (including John McCain), Words Can Heal. Interestingly, this project designed to improve the tone and quality of the nation’s public discourse seems to overlook the poison that Aish is spewing with its anti-Muslim film series. Not to mention that Doheny Global’s purchasing of political influence through junkets like these, besides bringing fortune to Katsof and business opportunities to Israel, also promotes a pro-Israel monopoly on political discourse in Congress–of all of which Doheny’s founder would no doubt be proud.
Katsof appears to be a serial founder of vanity non-profits. The Global Foundation for Democracy caters to his need to see himself as a champion of democracy in the Third World including the former Soviet Republics, where he does much of his business.
Though he brings Democrats and Republicans to Israel the overwhelming preponderance of his support goes to Republicans. The beauty of these junkets is that he can mix politics and business. Introduce lobbyists and corporate executives to new business opportunties, introduce them as well to Congress members with power to impact their corporate agenda, while “educating” business leaders about Israel’s “needs.” It’s a beautiful operation as far as Katsof is concerned. There is an old saying: doing well by doing good. In Katsof’s case, he does well by doing well. The “good” he does is purely in his own mind.
Katsof lives in the ultra-Orthodox enclave of Monsey, N.Y.
The NY Times article from which the above passage is quoted notes the seamy underpinnings of these trips and their funding:
Lobbyists themselves are not allowed to pay for trips, but their corporate clients can. And lobbyists are permitted to give huge sums to nonprofit groups that can sponsor travel. They can also travel to destinations and meet the lawmakers once they get there, though they cannot go on the same plane….The companies finance much of this travel indirectly, getting around the spirit of the rules by giving money to nonprofits, some of which seem to exist largely to sponsor trips. In fact, the rules may have had the unexpected effect of obscuring who is actually paying for a lawmaker’s junket.
…The universe of regular sponsors has been reduced to fewer than a dozen big foundations and associations…Many of the trips are sponsored by organizations with ideological and policy agendas, rather than commercial interests. Most of those rely, at least in part, on corporate financing to underwrite trips for lawmakers.
So there you have it. Aipac sees itself as doing Lord’s work in bringing legislators nearer to God, er Israel. And they’re willing to skirt the edge of propriety to do so because, well they’re doing God’s work and what’re a few rules bent in service to the Lord, anyway?
The whole thing stinks, but I don’t know what is worse – the lobbyists or the moneybags political schemers who are behind them.
Oh, wait…The worst are the politicians who play this whole sleazy game.
Gene Schulman says
Don’t be shocked, Mary. It’s just business as usual.