Where local members of Congress went on lobbyist-funded trips
Six members of the congressional delegation serving the North, West and Northwest suburbs took trips abroad last year funded by special interest groups, federal documents show.
Destinations included Honduras, Israel, Spain and Egypt. The hosts included groups that oppose U.S. activities in Central America, two that promote pro-Jewish policies in Congress and others focused on different domestic and global issues.
The trips turned up in a Daily Herald analysis of area lawmakers' annual financial disclosure reports.
Those reports -- mandatory for congressional representatives, senators and some staffers -- contain information about income, personal investments, gifts, trips, contracts, debts and more.
They are designed to cast light on conflicts of interest and unethical financial behavior, such as stock transactions inspired by insider information acquired on Capitol Hill.
The filing deadline is in mid-May, but lawmakers commonly get extensions until August -- and they're all typically released online by mid-September at disclosures-clerk.house.gov/PublicDisclosure/FinancialDisclosure.
Representatives and staffers are allowed to take privately sponsored trips, but they're considered gifts and are restricted. Lawmakers and staffers must obtain written approval from the House ethics committee before traveling, and the paperwork is extensive.
U.S. Rep. Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, a Chicago Democrat whose 4th District includes some Western suburbs, was part of a delegation that went to Honduras for two days in March 2022 as guests of several special-interest groups. According to Garcia's disclosure report, the hosts were:
• Witness for Peace, a group also called the Solidarity Collective that, according to its website, opposes "U.S. government and corporate policies that contribute to violence, poverty and oppression in the Americas." It was founded in 1983 to oppose U.S. support of right-wing rebel groups called the Contras in Nicaragua.
• CISPES, also known as the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, which opposes U.S. government and corporate intervention in El Salvador and supports "an alternative based upon democratic and socialist ideals," its website states.
• School of the Americas Watch, which opposes U.S. militarization and policies in the Americas, especially the training of Latin American soldiers and police at the former School of the Americas in Georgia, a center now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
• The Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala, which according to its website "works to build and strengthen ties between the people of the United States and Guatemala in the global struggle for justice, human dignity, and respect for the Earth."
Other lawmakers on the trip included Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar and Missouri Democrat Cori Bush, according to a news release issued at the time by Omar's office. A staffer for Democratic U.S. Rep. Schakowsky of Evanston attended, too.
The delegation met with Honduran President Xiomara Castro and with human rights officials about immigration and other matters.
Months later, Garcia and Schakowsky were among the lawmakers who introduced a congressional resolution affirming the rights of Indigenous people in Honduras.
The nonprofit group addresses Americans' economic challenges, energy and environmental concerns, public health policy and other issues.
They were there for a congressional seminar called "The World on Fire: Putin's War in Ukraine, the Pandemic, and U.S. Interests."
U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, a Chicago Democrat representing the largely suburban 5th District, also reported going to that seminar on the Aspen Institute's dime.
Quigley found the seminar very educational, a spokeswoman said.
The Aspen Institute also paid for Schakowsky and her husband to visit Iceland for four days in August and September 2022 for a congressional program about energy, security and the Arctic.
Schakowsky, who has served the 9th District for more than 20 years, said international travel helps her and her staff "gain a deeper understanding of American interests in an ever-changing and interconnected world."
"We have the incredible opportunity to meet with world leaders, diplomats, advocates and members of civil society on any number of national security and global topics," she said.
U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, a Naperville Democrat serving the 14th District, reported going to Tel Aviv, Israel, for a week in February 2022 at the expense of a lobbying group called J Street. The group promotes pro-Jewish and pro-democratic U.S. policies and seeks a negotiated resolution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, its website says.
The same month, U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, a Highland Park Democrat serving the 10th District, and his wife traveled to Tel Aviv for eight days as guests of the American Israel Education Foundation. That nonprofit organization funds the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a lobbying group that pushes pro-Israel policies in Congress and supports the U.S.'s relationship with Israel but also has been at odds with the similarly motivated J Street.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee hosted dozens of American lawmakers from both political parties in Israel in 2022, according to media reports at the time.
Additionally, in November 2022, Schneider took a four-day trip to Egypt for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. He reported his travel expenses were covered by the Climate Solutions Foundation, a group that aims to bring members of Congress together with global leaders and corporate executives to discuss climate science, economics and policy, its website states.
U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Schaumburg Democrat serving the 8th District, reported visiting Madrid, Spain, in November 2022 as a guest of the Ripon Society, a Republican organization named after the Wisconsin town where the GOP was formed. The organization teamed with a nonprofit group called the Franklin Center for Global Policy Exchange to hold a conference about U.S.-Spain relations.
Krishnamoorthi's chief of staff, Brian Kaissi, said the congressman -- a member of the House Intelligence Committee -- was pleased to be part of a bipartisan congressional delegation that came at no cost to taxpayers.
"While there, the group met with numerous dignitaries and elected officials from Spain, (which) is part of our alliance against the Russian invasion of Ukraine," Kaissi said.
Krishnamoorthi's relationship with the host groups stretches beyond that gathering. Earlier this month, he was among four lawmakers who received Roosevelt Leadership Awards from them. The award is named after former Republican President Theodore Roosevelt and honors the recipients' efforts to rebuild trust in government "and make government work better on behalf of the American people," according to a news release.
The other representatives serving the suburbs -- Delia Ramirez of Chicago, Bill Foster of Naperville and Sean Casten of Downers Grove -- reported no complimentary travel last year.