Transparency Loses in GOP Lawmakers' Private Retreat

In his State of the Union address this week, President Obama urged members of Congress to be more transparent about their interactions with lobbyists. Yet this same week, members of the House Republican Caucus will attend a retreat sponsored by the non-profit Congressional Institute, where they will mingle privately with lobbyists. The Institute's 14-member Board consists of top Capitol Hill lobbyists who work for the leading pharmaceutical companies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and major corporations, like American Express and Verizon. Ethics rules forbid lobbyists from directly financing trips and retreats for members of Congress, but there are no such prohibitions on travel or retreats sponsored by non-profit charitable or educations groups, like the Congressional Institute. The Institute skirts ethics rules by restricting lobbyists from participating in sessions at the retreat, while only allowing them to mingle with lawmakers at receptions and dinners, which are closed to the public. Ironically, the most prominent guest scheduled to speak at this week's exclusive gathering for public officials is President Obama, who will speak to the Republican Caucus on Friday.
LATE-BREAKING UPDATE: President Obama's Q & A session at the Republican retreat was televised and can be viewed here.