The Washington Post obtained a confidential ethics report revealing that 10 members of Congress and 32 staffers attended a conference in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 2013 on the dime of the state-owned oil company, SOCAR. The congressional members also received gifts such as rugs valued at up to $10,000. SOCAR spent $750,000 to fund the conference, but it did so through nonprofits based in the US to conceal the funding, according to the 70-page report—the most extensive in the seven-year history of the Office of Congressional Ethics. Investigators, however, found no evidence that lawmakers knew of the secret government funding, though the Post adds that "SOCAR organized much of the conference in plain sight," sponsoring visas and plastering its logo everywhere.
SOCAR is playing the blame game, saying it was the nonprofits' fault for not making things clearer about funding and adding, "We have cooperated fully." The conference had major political implications, as it focused on a $28 billion natural gas pipeline in the Caspian Sea being hampered by sanctions on Iran. The report, however, found no evidence that attendees tried to help the project along. The nonprofits involved had ties to the Azerbaijan government, and the report will be turned over to the House Ethics Committee to see if congressional rules or federal laws were violated. The 10 who went: Reps. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla.; Yvette D. Clarke, D-N.Y.; Danny K. Davis, D-Ill.; Rubén Hinojosa, D-Tex.; Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Tex.; Leonard Lance, R-N.J.; Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M.; Gregory W. Meeks, D-N.Y.; Ted Poe, R-Tex.; and former Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Tex. Click for the full Post story. (Read more Azerbaijan stories.)