According to today’s Wall Street Journal, the military has
dispatched officials to accompany lawmakers on dozens of trips abroad –
and shower them with "thousands of dollars worth of alcohol, food and
other amenities." In doing so, the Journal reports,
the "military exploits its official escort role on these trips to
foster relationships with lawmakers who approve departmental budgets
and top appointments. The disclosures also underscore the military's
pervasive pursuit of congressional access."
The officials who go on the trips are usually the same ones lobbying Congress in Washington, reports the Journal, which requested the military-expense records through the Freedom of Information Act.
The military laid out its strategy very clearly in correspondence
between Army officials in November 2008 about an official’s upcoming
trip to Europe with Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn. Its goals were to:
"1. Establish a personal connection between the Army and
Senator Dodd office. 2. Create Member access through relationships. 3.
Educate members of Congress on FCS," a reference to the Future Combat
Systems, a multibillion-dollar modernization program favored by the
Army that was killed this year by the Pentagon.
The official was given $7,000 to cover expenses. The records for
this trip presumably don’t include a breakdown of those expenses; just
43 of the more than 100 congressional trips handled by the Air Force
and the Army from December 2007 to mid-2009 do.
The Army said in a statement that helping lawmakers with overseas
travel was "a way to provide information about the Army to assist
members of Congress and congressional staff in making fully informed
decisions about Army policies, programs and budget." A spokesman for
Dodd declined to comment.
The Journal is quick to point out that the travel records don’t include any evidence of a quid pro quo or any favoritism.