Free trips for congressmen up 60% since 2008

Members of Congress and their staff took nearly 1,900 privately-sponsored trips in 2013, according to LegiStorm, a website that compiles data about Congress -- the most since congressional travel rules were reformed in 2007 in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal.

The trips last year cost around $6 million, the most since the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act was passed in 2007. The number of trips is up 60 percent from 2008, the first full year of the new law; the amount spent in 2013 is double what was spent in 2008, according to National Journal.

The previous post-reform record for privately funded travel was set in 2011, when congressmen took about 1,600 trips worth about $5.8 million.

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Israel was the most popular foreign destination for lawmakers last year, with $2 million in travel there paid for by groups like the American Israel Education Foundation, a wing of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., cost private sponsors the most in 2013, LegiStorm notes, with trips to to Ethiopia, Turkey and Sudan that cost about $70,000. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., took 11 trips last year, the most trips of any congressman.

Congress in 2007 tightened its travel rules to limit the influence of lobbyists. Now members of Congress can attend privately-sponsored trips if the sponsor is not a registered lobbyist -- though the groups affiliated with lobbying organizations (such as the American Israel Education Foundation) can still pay for trips. No more than one relative can accompany a member of Congress, and lawmakers must file disclosure forms detailing the trip expenses.