[dropcap]C[/dropcap]olorado Rep Cory Gardner and his wife Jaime took a $17,000, five-day trip to Ireland in August, paid for by the Republican Party Ripon Society and the big business-backed Franklin Center.
Gardner didn’t return calls months ago asking him whether he went on the trip but the expense reports are now available online.
On August 9, he and his wife flew to Dublin with two $7,000 roundtrip business-class tickets. They returned August 15. It was the opening week of the end-of-summer congressional recess. They spent $3,000 on lodging, local transportation and food.
Gardner was invited along with many other members of Congress, from both parties. The list included House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Erik Cantor. Gardner was asked to join a panel on energy security to discuss oil exploration off the Irish coast. Attendees took time between meetings to visit attractions like the Irish parliament buildings and the Guinness Storehouse.
In pitching the trip, the sponsors said they were willing to spend $450,000 to $750,000.
Some expense reports from the trip went online early. Amounts spent varied. Oklahoma Republican Rep. Frank Lucas and his wife asked for $8,875. Connecticut Democratic Rep. John Larson and his son asked for $15,310.
The Ireland junket, first reported by Washington publication Roll Call, is the kind of congressional perk that has come to be expected on the part of officeholders and the cynical public, just another opportunity for wealthy interests to further their agendas through close proximity to lawmakers and the promise of future all-expense-paid getaways.
Even as the European Union moves increasingly toward renewable energy sources, leaving the United States behind, it’s not difficult to imagine the opinion Gardner expressed about what course Ireland should follow into the energy future.
Gardner has been a great friend in Congress to the oil industry since he arrived in 2010, pulling down a large share of campaign donations from the industry and sponsoring bills that aim to clear the way for more drilling and greater profits, mainly by cutting environmental regulations and oversight.
His district is currently one of the most heavily drilled in the United States. It includes parts of the gas-rich Wattenberg Field, where extraction companies have descended on cities and towns and set up fracking well pads feet from schoolyards and neighborhood developments. Residents, fearing for their health, seeing their property prices plunge and watching lawmakers do little to protect their interests, have pushed back against the industry by passing local bans on drilling. Those bans are now drawing lawsuits that the state appears likely to support.
In an interview that aired just days after he returned from Ireland, Gardner said mineral rights owners doing business with drillers are simply following their Colorado dream. He seemed baffled by the idea that residential areas in his district like Longmont could be subject to zoning laws that would restrict heavy industrial activity or non-residential construction. He never mentioned that his constituents were organizing on their own accord to take that approach.
“There’s ways to handle this,” he told Jon Caldara, head of the Koch-funded free-market Independence Institute. “If you don’t want your neighbor to do something on their land, you can make a deal with them… It’ll probably cost you some money. But it’s a free society. It’s a free market. [Drilling] is a free use of your own private property.”
Clarification: The Franklin Center referred to in the article is the Franklin Center for Global Policy Exchange. Its board consists of major corporations that include energy corporations. The New York Times has reported that the purpose of the organization is to act as a front for corporate sponsors who might have sponsored congressional junkets directly, as they have in the past, but due to ethics rules passed over the last decade, now pay for the getaways through nonprofits. As the Times put it in 2009: “The Franklin Center for Global Policy Exchange seems to exist largely to sponsor Congressional travel.” Colorado Congressman Doug Lamborn went on a Franklin Center trip to the Netherlands in 2009. That Franklin Center is not to be confused with the The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a “free-market” news network funded by the oil magnate Koch brothers.
[ Image of Cory Gardner via House GOP. ]