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Lobbyist-linked Group Footed Bill for Rep. Burton’s Bahrain Trip

The Indiana Republican and his wife traveled on the dime of a group with deep connections to a lobbying firm, despite a ban on travel financed by lobbyists.

From right: University of Bahrain President Ebrahim Janahi, Rep. Dan Burton, Samia Burton, and Bahrain American Council President Al Khalafalla (Bahrain American Council)

When Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) and his wife Samia arrived in Bahrain in April, they were greeted with a huge welcome poster featuring oversized smiling headshots of the Burtons.

The veteran Indiana Republican, who is the third-ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs committee, met with the crown prince, after which a local pro-government newspaper ran a picture of the two men under the headline, “Bahrain’s reforms are hailed.” The paper reported that Burton had “lauded His Majesty for his statesmanship [and] steps to modernise Bahrain and promote reforms,” amid continuing pro-democracy protests.

When the congressman returned to Washington from Bahrain, he took to the House floor to praise Bahrain’s leaders and criticize protesters. (See video of the speech below.)

Burton’s soothing words for the embattled government weren’t the only unusual thing about this trip.

The $20,966 cost of the trip, including business-class flights for Burton and his wife, was paid by a nonprofit group, the Bahrain American Council, created last year by the lobbying and public relations firm Policy Impact Communications to promote the Bahraini government line in Washington.

Members of Congress are not allowed to accept travel funds from any entity that “employs or retains” a lobbyist. The rule was instituted in 2007 after the Jack Abramoff scandal, which involved the corrupt lobbyist paying for luxury junkets for members of Congress and other officials.

Given the prohibition, how could a lobbyist-connected group finance Burton’s trip?  

Because the Bahrain American Council says it doesn’t have any lobbyists on its staff.

But it sure is close to them.

The Bahrain American Council is located at 1401 K Street, NW, Suite 600 in Washington. That’s the same office as Policy Impact, which does employ a registered lobbyist and thus would be barred from paying for Burton’s trip.

William Nixon, the CEO of Policy Impact and a registered lobbyist, and two other Policy Impact officials originally incorporated the Bahrain American Council and made up its board, according to the group’s articles of incorporation.

Nixon told ProPublica a new board of directors, led by current council president Khalafalla, was installed soon after the group’s creation. But Nixon remains on the group’s advisory board, which met in May. And Policy Impact employees handled our phone calls seeking comment from the Bahrain American Council. 

The current vice chairman of the Bahrain American Council is another Policy Impact executive, Richard Carlson (the father of conservative commentator Tucker Carlson). Until March of this year, Policy Impact itself was listed in Washington records as the corporate agent of the Bahrain American Council.

Policy Impact also distributes op-eds written council president Al Khalafalla. One Khalafalla op-ed posted on Policy Impact’s website states, “For 300 years, Bahrain has been a stable, peaceful, and tolerant land, marching steadily toward continued openness and inclusion.” Khalafalla accompanied the Burtons on their April trip.

Asked about the relationship between Policy Impact and the council, Khalafalla told ProPublica that “Policy Impact has helped with the business development of the BAC, as well as extending public relations services.” He said the council is funded by donations from private businessmen and described the group as wanting “to ensure that commercial, trade, and cultural relationships between the [U.S. and Bahrain] remain strong.”

The House Ethics Committee, which has often been criticized for lackluster oversight, approved the council’s paying for Burton’s trip.

“The ethics committees have turned the rules on their head by allowing a lobbying entity or even lobbyists to set up a non-profit and just pay for travel junkets through non-profits,” says Craig Holman of Public Citizen, who helped draft the post-Abramoff rules. “It completely defeats the purpose of the rules.”

The ethics committee declined to comment. Burton’s office did not respond to calls.

The ethics committee has a history of generous interpretations of the travel rules. For example, despite the ban on travel paid for by entities that employ lobbyists, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which employs lobbyists, has for several years paid for congressional trips to Israel through a closely related non-profit group.

But Public Citizen’s Holman says Burton’s Bahrain trip is the first example he’s seen of a K Street lobbying firm exploiting the non-profit spinoff strategy.

Since protests broke out against Bahrain’s ruling government in early 2011, Bahrain’s government has at times violently suppressed demonstrations by the country’s Shia majority population. This month, Amnesty International criticized the government for banning opposition rallies. Bahrain has also sought to shore up its alliance with the U.S., in part by hiring several Western public relations and lobbying firms. The U.S. Navy has an important base in Bahrain and the Obama administration has been supportive of the regime there.

The Bahrain American Council, created by Policy Impact in the weeks after protests began last year, is not officially connected to Bahrain’s government but has been one of the groups working in Washington to solidify support for the regime.

Nixon, Policy Impact’s CEO, told ProPublica that he had no role in organizing the Burton trip. He also said, “The Bahrain American council has no lobby function, no policy function, no government relations function to it at all. It promotes trade and business.”

But Khalafalla’s op-eds in outlets including Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller and Fox News have addressed U.S. foreign policy to Bahrain, praised the country’s royal family, and blamed Iran for stirring up discontent. The columns have not focused on questions of commerce.

“The stakes in Bahrain are too high to risk change without considering what may come next,” Khalafalla wrote in his Fox column this month. “Destabilizing Bahrain would offer Iran the opportunity to exert influence or outright control over a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The U.S. will lose its valuable naval base, the headquarters of the 5th Fleet.”

The council’s website also shows Khalafalla meeting with multiple members of Congress and policy experts, including a meeting to “brief [Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)] about “the situation in Bahrain” and another with Heritage Foundation staffers to discuss the Arab Spring.

Khalafalla told ProPublica in an email that the group’s “board of directors and the legal counsel decided that BAC dont [sic] have to register as a foreign agent or a lobbyist due to the fact that BAC dont advocate for anyone and have no policy or legislative agenda before Congress or the administration.”

Khalafalla added that “Personally, I never discussed any specific issues (for or against) Bahrain with any policy maker. My role is limited to help with the visits to educational, cultural, or nonprofit groups. Interfacing with either Bahrain government or US embassy and the [U.S. Navy] Fifth fleet officials during any trip was coordinated through the respective government entities.”

Burton, who is retiring at the end of this term, extended the Bahrain trip for two days at personal expense to nearby Doha, according to travel disclosure documents.

Burton does not appear to have been publicly involved in Bahrain issues in the past. He does, however, have an existing relationship with Policy Impact.

In 2009, the firm was hired on a $1.5 million contract by the government of Kazakhstan to coordinate the establishment of a Central Asia Caucus in Congress. Burton became one of the co-chairs of the caucus, and in 2009 he received three contributions totaling $1,500 from Policy Impact employees, including the firm’s president, Nixon.

The other co-chair of the Central Asia Caucus was American Samoa Delegate Eni Faleomavaega. As we’ve previously reported, Faleomavaega, a Democrat, has taken two recent trips to Bahrain — including one in which he was accompanied by the Bahrain American Council’s Khalafalla.

When Burton arrived home in April, he delivered a speech acknowledging Bahrain’s government had made “mistakes” in its violent response to the protests but that it had since reformed. His harshest words were for the protesters.

“The demonstrators have used terrorist tactics, as I said, to try to destroy and undermine the government, and the Molotov cocktail is one of the things that they’ve been using. They’ve also been learning other things from the radicals that come in there or have been trained by the Iranians,” Burton said, adding: “Bahrain has been very supportive of our military, very supportive of our intelligence, very supportive of the Navy and the Fifth Fleet, and we need to make sure that that relationship continues for as many years as possible.”

Here’s the video of the speech:

Stephanie Palmer

July 31, 2012, 4:36 p.m.

I’m glad the Burton’s are so enthralled with the government of Bahrain. It’s the same government which convicted and imprisoned 30 doctors and nurses because they tended to protesters who needed medical care after the government came after them.  I wonder if Burton intends to make Indiana state government like that.  Oh, and I’m so glad he was able to skirt the spirit of the law. Must be nice.

If it smells like a lobbyist, talks like a lobbyist and spends like a lobbyist,no matter what they call themselves,they are lobbyists! Note how the party of the Right protect their own but if the paqrty of the Left did this the Right would be calling for scalps!

The House Ethics Committee site has a “contact us” tab. We have the choice of either receiving their email updates by signing up (no option to voice opinions) , or by phone (leaves no written record), fax (who sends faxes these days?) or snail mail.

I looked up broadband fax software and can only find fax services which require monthly payments after a 30 day trial period. Anyone know of a free service?

1015 Longworth House Office Building (LHOB)
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: 202-225-7103
Fax: 202-225-7392
Office Hours: Mon. - Fri.
9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

This creep and all who do what this guy did should be promptly removed from office and sent to prison. Democrap or Republicreep. This creep had no US business in any place but Indiana. When will we the people get mad enough to oust these creeps and take back our country.
We have the wolves watching the chicken coup, these liars make the laws and police themselves right to the bank with all the money they can steal.
Tell everyone you speak to, politicians like this, Republican or Democrat must be held accountable.

.Burton is an ethical trainwreck. Remember several years ago he was one of the most vocal in calling for Clintons impeachment regarding Monica smoking his cigar. While he was doing this he knocked up his mistress and fathered a child in an extramarital affair. Class act that Dan Burton.

Politicians and Wall Street executives are fortunate to operate in an ethics-free America.

Carolyn, there are a few leads in a Google Answers thread titled “Sending free unlimited fax online,” which I haven’t tried.  If you have a VoIP phone, you might try contacting them to see if they have a solution, considering that it should be pretty easy to implement.

From the article, though, two things drew my attention, here…

First, I don’t think it’s all that “unusual” for an elected government official to vacation in a repressive country lauding its policies while refusing to fix problems at home.  It seems like, in my lifetime, politicians have been far more interested in China, Germany, Iraq, Mexico, Japan, Israel, and Korea than anything that happens here.  Heck, Romney isn’t even bothering to campaign in this country; apparently, we’re not a high priority for these…“people.”

Second, $20,966 is a very peculiar number, especially with the recent scandal with Bill Owens and his $22,132 to visit Taiwan.  Is it really possible that luxury trips to and stays at both countries cost so nearly the same?  Or is $20ishK a number selected to be somehow inconspicuous, with the actual costs obscured?  It reminds me of someone trying to sneak in under some threshold that triggers an investigation, like money launderers do.

excelent, but i want reading in korean

If this little junket is any indication of Burton’s grasp of ethics, one wonders what else he’s been up to the decades he’s been in public office.

BooRadley: I clearly remember Burton during Clinton/Lewinsky, and determined then that he stood out as the primary posturing, hyperbolic, self-righteous hypocrite among the the other thugs who stunk up the “hearings”.

korean j: I used a free online translator (paralink) which came up with   읽기, 독서; 해독, 해석; 학식, 지식; 측정하기 as the Korean translation for the one word, “reading”, I asked it to translate. That’s a lot of characters!!

John:  Thanks! I found one service “FaxOrama” which I’ll try to research before divulging my personal info in order to use their service. (Assume their access to my name/phone # gives them the right to use/share it for any purpose since there has to be a tradeoff somewhere.) If Comcast continues raising rates on my current “bundle”, I’ll definitely switch to a voip alternative.

And as to your other comments: Ditto!!!

what about all the congress men and women who take aipac funded junkets to israel every single year? no doubt this influences their policy making when it comes to the middle east. who in congress has ever stepped foot in a palestinian refugee camp and observed the living conditions under israeli occupation?

Paydirt! There is an Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) which “...is an independent, non-partisan entity charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct against Members, officers, and staff of the United States House of Representatives.” They encourage public input, and clearly outline the process (email!) by which we can submit our complaints.

This gives us the ability to complain against the House Ethics Committee which is supposed to be our first bulwark in preventing the kind of ethical abuse/influence peddling/foreign meddling that occurred when they gave a pass on the Dan Burton family trip. If the OCE isn’t also bought off, maybe they’ll take it on.

Google: Office of Congressional Ethics.

Re: Contacting House Ethics Committee: The free broadband fax service (faxzero.com)  promises to preserve privacy, so it will serve if we want a written record of our complaint (and evidence we sent our complaint) to penetrate their fortress walls.

Benjamin Franklin

Aug. 1, 2012, 6:03 p.m.

America has the best government foreign money can buy.

Sherry Miller

Aug. 2, 2012, 9:30 a.m.

Indiana needs to get rid of this character immediately. If they don’t, they deserve him and his cronies.

Brent (Indiana resident)

Aug. 2, 2012, 1:12 p.m.

Clearly Dan Burton is a secret Muslim. He may not even have been born in the US and could be promoting the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood together with Grover Norquist. Not only is Norquist married to a Palestinian Muslim woman, Samah Alrayyes, who was a director of the terrorist funding Islamic Free Market Institute but Norquist himself has direct ties to the terrorist funding groups, CAIR and the Palestinian Jihad, as well as the Shariah Law promoting group, the Fiqh Council. Dan Burton has been a strong supporter of Grover Norquist. Norquist has also moved aggressively to bring other Indiana politicians such as David McIntosh and Wayne Seybold into the Muslim fold.

Wasn’t this the same guy who shot up watermelons trying to prove the Clintons murdered Vince Foster?

Brent (Indiana resident)

Aug. 2, 2012, 1:35 p.m.

@girlcousin

Yes, he did, Watermelon Dan. He also received money from Syed Fai and Zaheer Ahmad to promote a pro-Pakistan/anti-India agenda on Kashimir.

Brent and girlcousin! Great posts! Thanks for the laughs, and Jon Stewart needs you! ....and Brent: sincere condolences on the imminent retirement of your long entrenched congressional house rep - presumably kept in power via “values” voters.

My fax to the over sight House “Ethics” Committee and email to the uber oversight to oversee the oversight “Office of Congressional “Ethics”“, is prepared and ready to send, just need a few more co-signators to give me the delusional illusion I’m adding a bit more heft before attempting to rattle some heavily reinforced government cages.

As a bahraini citizen I’m againsts the terrorist who in the name of democracy destroying my country & the criminal doctors who as angel of mercy turned in to the angel of death & tortured sunni citizen & even did not accept to treat expats & sunni patients because of their sects and I’m even against the fake sectarian activists who support voice & hide the crimes of the terrorist each & every bahraini & gulf citizens know what is the reality behind this movement turning Bahrain in to a islamic republic such as Iran though Iran claims Bahrain is its 14th provience May Allah Almight bring peace to Bahrain

Mr Burton i think you have not read the book that you held up a couple of times that was written by Mr Bassiouni. please read it before you open your rotten mouth. yes you repeated and repeated that it is to the best interest that you are friends with bahrain for what you can get from them and that the fifth fleet is here. why dont you talk to the protestors and see then go and make your speech. what about the 80 + people that have been killed.  what about the bird shot that is being used till last night.. dont be a fair weather friend.. just open your eyes. better still how much were you paid by the al khalifas. you are just a sorry B

These foreign trips paid by lobbyist either working for those foreign countries or are from those countries. Great that Pro Publica went after this trip and NY congressman Owen’s trip to Taiwan who then paid back the 20,ooo that Taiwan lobbyist paid for he and his wife to go to Taiwan.  BUT
When will Pro Publica dig deep into the trips being paid for to Israel for Congress people and their staffs to Israel.  80 trips by congress people last year to Israel more recently the skinny dipping affair where numerous Congressman as well as family and staff were sent to Israel by the American Israel Educational Foundation an affiliate of Aipac (even in the same building) clearly a lobbying group paid for these trips. Why is it that Pro Publica is not digging into these trips.  Investigating AIEF.  You know they are a lobbying group for Israel.  I thought new rules were up after the pay to play Abramoff/Ney scandal. Why is it certain rules seem to apply to Taiwan lobbyist, this Bahrain trip but those same standards or investigative digging apply to these trips to Israel by congresspeople.  More pay to play.  Who is in charge at Pro Publica? What is up?  Double standards