CODEPINK’s Complaint to the Congressional Ethics Committee

I would like to file a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics against the Congressional trips to Israel organized by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF). These trips violate the Congressional Ethics Rules and should be prohibited.

1. Person filing the complaint:

Medea Benjamin,
Affiliated with CODEPINK: Women for Peace

2. American Israel Education Fund (AIEF) trips to Israel

3. Three trips during August recess

—one delegation for Democrats headed by Cong. Steny Hoyer
–two delegations for Republicans headed by Cong. Eric Cantor and Cong. Kevin McCarthy

4. The American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), which organizes the aforementioned Congressional delegations to Israel, is not a separate entity from the lobby group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The groups share the same offices, have overlapping boards of directors, share equipment, mailing lists, etc. They have the same Chief Financial Officer; the managing director of AIPAC is also the principal officer of AIEF. Funds are constantly transferred from one entity to another. According to the latest publicly available AIEF tax returns and AIPAC tax returns in 2009, AIEF funneled $13.5 million into AIPAC for “education”.  This means that the supposedly tax-exempt group AIEF is financing a non-tax exempt 501(c)4 lobbying organization.

The money and services flow the other way as well, from AIPAC to AIEF. With the massive amount of work involved in organizing these large congressional delegations, it is indeed strange that AIEF has no paid employees. That is because the work is done by AIPAC-paid staff. According to AIPAC’s tax returns, in 2009 AIPAC contributed more than $3.2 million of employee salaries to cover the staff costs of AIEF.  In other words, a 501(c)(4) organization with registered lobbyists is paying for the staff of a 501(c)(3) organization to run congressional delegations that cannot legally be funded by an organization that employs registered lobbyists.

5. According to the House Ethics Manual Chapter 3 on travel, congressmembers and staff are prohibited from participating in any multiple-day trip that was planned, organized, requested, or arranged by a lobbyist. AIPAC is a registered lobby group.

The travel provisions prohibit Members and staff from accepting travel from a private source if the official will be accompanied by a lobbyist  on “any segment” of the trip (House Rule 25, clause 5(c)(1)(A). Staff paid for by AIPAC accompany members on these trips.

In the 2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA), an exemption for 501(c)(3) organizations was written into the Senate rules, but the House declined to add this loophole into its ethics rules. Even if there were such a loophole in House rules, which there isn’t, AIEF would not fit because it is simply the 501(c)(3) wing of the lobby group AIPAC.

6. Potential witnesses:
Craig Holman, government ethics lobbyist for Public Citizen.
Grant Smith, director of Institute for Research: Middle East Policy.