Democratic congresswoman Susan Davis, already the junket queen of San Diego’s House delegation, has been racking up more miles of late. She and her husband, physician Steve Davis, went away to a swanky resort hotel outside Tunis, Tunisia, from May 31 to June 6. Official purpose of the weeklong mission, costing a total of $21,327, was to attend a conference entitled “Political Islam: Policy Challenges for Congress.” Picking up the tab, as usual, was Washington, D.C.–based Aspen Institute, along with some big-name tax-exempt foundations, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Henry Luce Foundation. Under new House rules, the nonprofits were required to produce a letter saying they were aware of the topic of the event but weren’t lobbying for anything, hadn’t received any congressional earmarks, and left the choice of which House members would get the freebies to Aspen. But skeptics note that private foundations aren’t required by federal law to disclose to the public the names of their contributors, a big loophole that could allow stealthy donors such as lobbyists and corporations to launder the trip money to their congressional friends by contributing it tax-free to the nonprofits.
The 12-member congressional delegation, whose members ran the gamut from Arizona conservative Republican Jeff Flake to Los Angeles liberal Democrat Henry Waxman, stayed at the Residence Hotel, “ideally located on the superb, golden sandy beaches of the Mediterranean,” according to the “Leading Hotels of the World” website. The Residence’s own website describes the place as the “glamour-zen rendez vous of the Mediterranean.” Amenities include a “private beach with sailing and windsurfing,” a “1500-square-meter freshwater swimming pool,” an adults-only seawater indoor pool, and “two floodlit tennis courts.” The delegation’s meals were taken at the hotel’s L’Olivier restaurant, which “offers a sumptuous buffet of sea foods and fish” on a terrace overlooking the pool. The nearby Lounge Bar is “the ideal meeting place for hotel guests and the Tunisian jet set.”
According to Davis’s travel disclosure, Tunisia was picked for the conference because “it is a venue in an Islamic country convenient for participants from Islamic countries.” The Residence was chosen, she said, for its “security, conference facilities, and communications.” After presumably toweling off from the beach, the group held daytime sessions and nightly “working dinners,” pondering such questions as “Is Tunisia progressing towards a more open society?”, “Is Al Qaeda in the Maghreb a significant concern for the U.S?”, and “Are there any realistic options to destroy or delay the Iranian nuclear program?”
Since 2005, Davis, often accompanied by her husband, has junketed to Dublin, Ireland (U.S.-Russia-Europe relations, $8746); Punta Mita, Mexico (U.S. policy in Latin America, $7305); Montego Bay, Jamaica (U.S. education reform, $5853); Kraków, Poland (U.S.-Russia-Europe relations, $8166); San Juan, Puerto Rico (No Child Left Behind, $7036); Shanghai, China (U.S.-China relations, $25,068); Ljubljana, Slovenia (Political Islam, $7172); Rome, Italy (Political Islam: Challenges for U.S. Policy, $14,280); Dubrovnik, Croatia (Political Islam: Policy Challenges for the New Administration, $11,058); and Banff, Canada (U.S. education standards and public policy, $6000), all paid for by Aspen. The $5985 tab for a jaunt to Tel Aviv, Israel, last November was picked up by the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center.