In 2007, Congress passed measures largely barring lavish lobbyist-funded trips and gatherings. But what the New York Times calls "destination fundraisers" haven't stopped, and, indirectly, they're still funded by the lobbyists, who schmooze with lawmakers in places like Napa Valley, Las Vegas, and Bermuda. The money for the trips technically comes from lawmakers' PACs: The lawmakers sponsor the jaunts and their PACs see donations of $1,000 to $5,000 from the donors and lobbyists who attend; the lobbyists foot their own plane and hotel bill, too.
"An informal setting is an effective way to build a better relationship," says a lobbyist. "It's a way to get some large chunks of a lawmaker’s time." Many lawmakers maintain they're a great way to raise funds and say they bring in tens of thousands after expenses; those on both sides of the aisle hold such events. Among the Times' past and future examples are Maryland's Steny Hoyer (Ritz-Carlton's Dorado Beach hotel in Puerto Rico), Michigan's John Conyers (Grammy Awards-tied event at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills), Missouri's Ann Wagner ("Spa Weekend" in Vegas), Minnesota's Collin Peterson (quail hunting in Georgia), and lots and lots of ski trips (see: Kelly Ayotte, Park City, Utah). At one recent two-day event in Vail, lobbyists got nearly six hours with Kentucky's Edward Whitfield and other co-sponsors, the Times notes, "time that would be all but impossible to arrange in Washington."