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Lobbyists foot politicians' lavish bills
04:23 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

The lush side of lobbying is on display at luxury resorts

Congressmen and senators host weekend retreats to taste wine, fish, play golf

Lobbyists accept the exclusive invitations -- and then make political donations

They say there's no better access to politicians and their staffs

Laguna Beach, California CNN  — 

On any given weekend, lobbyists in Washington head for the airport to jet off to luxurious locations across the country.

Destinations include Napa Valley in California for wine tasting, Wyoming for fly fishing and any number of spas, golf courses, even exclusive hunting trips.

They are invited to these weekend retreats by members of Congress and their political action committees.

The cost of accepting the invite is a political donation of anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000. And that doesn’t include the cost of travel and lodging at some of the most posh resorts in the United States.

Rep. Duncan Hunter hosted a cocktail party as the sun set over the Pacific.

Why go? Lobbyists tell CNN there is no better access to a member of Congress and his or her top staff than spending a relaxing weekend with them, away from Capitol Hill.

It used to be that lobbyists would take politicians on trips, but when rules were changed and that was outlawed, politicians and their fund-raisers came up with this variation – organize the trips and invite the lobbyists along to pay for them.

This past August, CNN followed U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, to a lush weekend retreat at the Montage Laguna Beach resort. The weekend was capped off by a seaside cocktail party hosted by the congressman as the sun set over the Pacific.

In early September, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, hosted a golf weekend at the Inn at Perry Cabin, a posh resort on the banks of Chesapeake Bay. A Friday night terrace cocktail party included a special appearance by fellow Maryland lawmaker U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, who was one of the first on the links the next morning.

Both Cardin and Hunter declined interview requests.

Hunter’s aide told us: “The congressman holds events of all types in many different venues and either people choose to support him or they don’t, simple as that.”

Sen. Ben Cardin welcomed paying guests to the Inn at Perry Cabin, overlooking Chesapeake Bay.

Cardin’s communications director, Sue Walitsky, sent an email explaining that the fund-raiser at the Inn at Perry Cabin was for the senator’s leadership PAC, “so none of the funds raised went to support his personal campaign.”

She went on to say the weekend also provided the senator “an opportunity to show off one of the many beautiful locations in his home state.”

Want to travel in congressional style? Here’s a list of some recent and upcoming trips and their sponsors, compiled by the Sunlight Foundation. All you need is an invite and your checkbook.

  • Beach retreat: Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico, at the Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, October 22-23, 2014
  • Beach weekend: Kiawah Island, South Carolilna, at The Sanctuary, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, October 24-26, 2014
  • Fourth annual Disney weekend: Orlando, at the Four Seasons Resort, Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana, November 7-9, 2014
  • Golf/spa weekend: White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, at The Greenbrier, Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, November 14-16, 2014
  • Ski weekend: Deer Valley, Utah, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, December 6, 2014
  • Ski weekend: Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Sen. John Barasso, R-Wyoming, February 20-21, 2015

For a complete list of all fund-raisers, check out the list at the Sunlight Foundation’s