Gift Travel in the U.S. House of Representatives

AuthorZachary A. McGee,Philip Moniz
Published date01 September 2022
Date01 September 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
© 2021 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129211020830
Members’ time is precious, yet interest groups must
somehow persuade them to give some of it up (Fenno
1978, 34). Hosting an all-expense-paid trip, so-called gift
travel, can be just the ticket to deepening an interest
group’s relationship with a member of Congress. Free,
carefully planned trips have an allure that other venues
lack, and interest groups have increasingly taken advan-
tage of them to build relationships and share information
in Congress. Why do members accept these trips and
what do interest groups hope to get out of them?
Much scholarly research has been devoted to under-
standing how members allocate their time and how pres-
sure groups influence their decisions about politics and
policy (Baumgartner et al. 2009; Bawn et al. 2012; Hall
and Deardorff 2006; Kingdon 1995). Members tend to
rely heavily on donations from interest groups, trade
associations, and Political Action Committees of all affil-
iations to fund their reelection efforts (Brunell 2005;
Grier, Munger, and Roberts 1994; Milyo, Primo, and
Groseclose 2000). The relationship between special inter-
ests and elected officials has been the subject of public
suspicion and scholarly scrutiny for decades with persis-
tent concerns about potentially corrupting influences
(Ansolabehere, Snowberg, and Snyder 2005; Lowenstein
1989, 1995; Persily and Lammie 2004; Rosenson 2009;
Thompson 2005; Welch 1982). Despite this fascination,
scholars have historically failed to find direct linkages
between campaign contributions and roll-call votes
(Welch 1982; Wright 1990). Scholars have, however,
found interest groups influence members in other ways,
such as contributions timed before key votes or commit-
tee markups (Hall and Wayman 1990; Stratmann 1998),
the provision of information or labor to members’ offices
(Hall and Deardorff 2006), and even contributions in
exchange for meetings with members or changes to legis-
lative language (Kalla and Broockman 2016; Langbein
1986; McKay 2018, 2019).
This paper sheds light on the interest group-member
relationship with a new quantitative data set of privately
funded trips as well as interviews with former members
of Congress, current and former congressional staffers,
and staffers from interest groups that fund this travel. We
address two core aspects of these increasingly popular
trips attended by both members themselves and their
staffers. First, why do members go on privately spon-
sored trips? What do they hope to gain and how do they
conceptualize the risks and rewards of attending such
trips? And second, what types of groups are sending
20830PRQXXX10.1177/10659129211020830Political Research QuarterlyMcGee and Moniz
1The University of Texas at Austin, USA
Corresponding Author:
Philip Moniz, The University of Texas at Austin, 158 W. 21st St. Stop
A1800, Austin, TX 78712-1704, USA.
Gift Travel in the U.S. House of
Zachary A. McGee1 and Philip Moniz1
Members of Congress take more than 2,000 trips sponsored by private organizations and interest groups every
congress. Using a new data set of gift travel from 2007 to 2019 and interviews with former members of Congress,
current and former congressional staffers, and staffers from interest groups that fund trips, we attempt to answer
two core questions about this increasingly frequent behavior. Why do members take privately sponsored trips and
what types of groups are driving this behavior? We argue that members of Congress take trips because they believe
it makes them more effective legislators by exposing them to real-world consequences of their policy decisions and
forcing them to build relationships with their fellow members. Trip sponsors, alternatively, seek to persuade and build
relationships with members of Congress that ultimately shape their legislative coalitions. We find that trip-taking is
associated with greater legislative effectiveness, in particular for Democrats, and that the provision of policy-specific
information is a valuable benefit from taking these trips.
U.S. Congress, congressional travel, gift travel, privately sponsored travel, money in politics, interest groups
2022, Vol. 75(3) 706–719

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