A top aide to Republican congressman Duncan D. Hunter, already a veteran of one far-off jungle excursion, thanks to the largesse of a SeaWorld-backed, Washington DC-based nonprofit, has done it again.
Victoria Middleton, longtime chief of staff to both Hunter and before him his father, Duncan L. Hunter, embarked on a nine-day tour of southern Africa from August 9 through 18, courtesy of the International Conservation Caucus Foundation.
Expenses picked up by the foundation included $3091.56 in travel, along with $781.36 for lodging and $367.59 worth of meals, as well as $341.69 for "Park fees, guide trips, [and] field activities."
"I advise the congressman on issues relating to conservation efforts and impacts of wildlife poaching on the security in the regions," Middleton said on her July 23 disclosure filing regarding the junket. "The activities on these trips will address these two areas."
The International Conservation Caucus Foundation and its so-called conservation council, whose members include SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Exxon-Mobile, Ringling Brothers, Coca-Cola, and Qualcomm, is not without controversy, though the group insists it is doing good.
"Members share a common desire to implement conservation projects safeguarding wildlife and biodiversity, protecting and restoring habitats, and generating economic opportunities and social benefits for surrounding communities who are necessarily the long-term stewards of local natural resources," according to the foundation's website.
But skeptics remain. "This is not educational,” Craig Holman, a lobbyist with Public Citizen said last year of the group’s congressional junketing. “This is influence peddling available primarily only to special interests that have a lot of money to throw around.”
In any case, along with its interest in wildlife, the foundation has become well attuned to the care and feeding of politicos.
"Since December 2007, it has led 39 Republican and 26 Democratic aides and lawmakers on 10 group trips at a cost of more than $350,000," according to an April 2013 profile of the group by Mother Jones.
"One outing, a $30,700, 10-day tour of Botswana and South Africa that Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) and his wife took in August 2011, was the second most expensive on record for any member of Congress."
Hunter honcho Middleton was previously hosted by the foundation this past April on a five-day outing to Costa Rica with other 11 congressional aides. That trip to remote jungle resorts set the foundation back $1855, according to her disclosure.
Business included "Meetings in Pretoria with government officials, including a visit to the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria to discuss a range of topics related to conservation through development, including U.S. efforts to combat the poaching crisis in Africa."
Then it was on to Mozambique for a meeting with trip co-sponsor Carr, formerly a wealthy internet entrepreneur from Idaho.
"In 2007, Carr signed a 20-year agreement with the Government of Mozambique to restore and co-manage the country's flagship national park, Gorongosa," according to the itinerary.
The park is a popular destination for big-game photo safaris by wealthy tourists.
A dinner with former president of Mozambique Joaquim Chissano featured "his experiences in striving to balance conservation with development in Mozambique, as well as other national and regional conservation issues.”
Another session involved taking a "field mission to observe a site where the local community is successfully managing their resources and making profit from their land without degrading it."