Issa Staffers Hit the Road Courtesy of Special Interests

January was a busy month for travel by two staffers for GOP congressman Darrell Issa.

On the tenth of the month, it was off to Las Vegas for Laurent Morgan Crenshaw, an Issa legislative aide, to attend the glitzy Consumer Electronics Show.

The sponsor of the event, the Consumer Electronics Association, picked up Crenshaw's travel expenses of $546.80, lodging worth $593.60, and meals costing $200, according to his post-travel disclosure form, filed January 27 and posted online by LegiStorm.com.

Crenshaw "attended Congressional panels on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and other official CES events that also included a tour of the show floor and the Leaders in Technology dinner," the filing says.

The aide added, "I did not participate in each of the activities in the sponsor's agenda because they were too numerous in number, occurred over multiple days, and multiple events occurred at the same time."

Regarding the trip's relationship to his congressional duties, Crensaw said, "I handle judiciary committee and Intellectual property issues for Rep. Issa."

The Issa aide was only one of many congressional staffers invited to the event.

When it comes to influence-seeking, the Consumer Electronics Association is one of Capitol Hill's heavy hitters, with a long and varied agenda and plenty of money.

According to its most recent lobbying report, covering the final quarter of 2011, and dated January 20 of this year, the electronics association spent $840,000 lobbying the House, Senate, Environmental Protection Agency, and the White House on topics including "Mexican Energy Efficiency Issues Impacting Trade," and "Intellectual Property/Trade Agreements."

After Crenshaw got back from Las Vegas, it was the turn of Lawrence J. Brady, staff director of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which Issa chairs.

From January 18 through 21, Brady attended the "Congress of Tomorrow 2012 House Member Retreat" held at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel in that Maryland city by the Congressional Institute, which covered Brady's lodging costs of $413.49 and meals worth $443.10, according to his February 1 disclosure filing.

On January 19, ABC News featured a story about the event on its website, headlined "House Republicans, Lobbyists Schmooze in Baltimore for GOP Retreat," which reported that D.C. lobbyists paid $25,000 each to finance the excursion in return for access to the legislators and their staffs.

According to ABC's account of the getaway, "Republicans packed their bags, boarded buses and followed a police escort 40 miles to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, where a slate of private events is planned for lawmakers over the next three days at the Marriot Waterfront hotel.

"The lobbyists’ donations do not go directly to the Republican Party but instead are paid to the retreat’s sponsors, the Congressional Institute — a non-partisan, not-for-profit corporation that has planned the event for 24 years.

"Although attendance to most of the activities is restricted to members of Congress and their staff, lobbyists for corporations and associations that financially support the Congressional Institute are invited to join legislators at a reception and dinner Thursday night.

"Some Republicans contend that the presence of lobbyists does not necessarily sway lawmakers into any explicit course of action, but rather their input could be useful to help educate members on various issues."

Speakers included former Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs, former Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, and a keynote address by New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, the story added.

GOP political consultant Ed Gillespie also addressed the group, according to an agenda accompanying Brady's disclosure.

The event was closed to the media, ABC said.

A similar retreat was hosted by the institute for House Democrats the following week in Cambridge, Maryland, the network added.

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