Israel was among the top destinations for American lawmakers in August, a new report detailing a sharp spike in overseas travel by members of congress shows.
According to the Political Moneyline report, August 2013 saw the highest total of congressional trips, 130 jaunts costing $1.7 million, in two years.
In August 2012, only 47 trips were made, but August 2011 saw 135 trips by lawmakers, the most since 2006.
In August of this year, 26 Republican House members, including nearly two-thirds of the Republican freshman class, came to Israel on a trip sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, an AIPAC-affiliated organization that funds educational trips to Israel for American politicians. Mark Sanford, the South Carolina politician who found himself at the center of a scandal when his marital affair was exposed, came under fire for taking his new fiancée on the trip. AIEF spent more than $18,558 to bring Sanford and his partner on the week-long trip, according to the National Journal.
House Democrats sent their members to Israel in August as well. 37 members of Congress made the AIEF-sponsored trip — led by U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranked Democrat in the House — including Robert Kennedy’s grandson, Joseph Kennedy III of Massachusetts.
Every two years, AIEF brings House Republicans and Democrats to Israel on separate trips during the August recess. The organization spends around $10,000 per person, and pays for more congressional travel than any other organization, according to Roll Call, a Capitol Hill news outlet.
Fact-finding trips to foreign countries are seen as an important part of a congressman’s education. They provide an up-close look at issues on which he will have to vote, burnish foreign policy credentials as well as presenting an opportunity for expense-free travel.
Because of its role as an American ally in the Middle East, its religious significance, its emergence as a leading hi-tech and defense power, and its resonance with voters, freshman congressman often make the Jewish state their first trip.
The 2013 trips continue a trend that is fast becoming an integral part of congressional service. In 2011, 81 members - or about 20 percent of the House of Representatives – took a trip to Israel through AIEF during the August break.
In 2009, AIEF spent $1.2 million bringing congressmen and their families to Israel, the most visited foreign destination for legislators that year.
Since 2007, there strict limits have been placed on trips sponsored by lobbying organizations, but not private non-profits. AIPAC is a lobby, but AIEF, despite its extremely close ties, is considered a private charity.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.