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Washington's New Breed Of Junket

Labeling a trip 'educational' allows special interests to pay for congressional travel

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Feb. 18) -- When is a congressman's holiday weekend at a golf resort not a "recreational trip"? When it's paid for by a special interest. Then it's "educational" or "fact-finding."

At least that's what the Tobacco Institute is saying after having paid coach airfare and hotel and food bills for dozens of members of Congress and congressional staff to go to The Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, Ariz., this past weekend.

New congressional ethics rules bar members from accepting most gifts from special interests, including recreational travel. But they're allowed to accept reimbursement for expenses incurring during educational and fact-finding trips.

The Tobacco Institute won't say who attended and what they talked about. "This is a private meeting," Walker Merryman, vice president of the institute, told The Associated Press. "Since the furthest thing from our minds is making news, it's not public."

Members who did attend are required to disclose any expenses paid for them within 30 days. A reservations clerk told AP that more than 100 members and staff had registered for the conference.

Sure to have been on the agenda were new FDA rules governing tobacco promotions that kick in at the end of this month. The tobacco industry opposes the rules and has asked that they be blocked. A federal judge in North Carolina says he won't take any action until mid-March at the earliest.

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