Albuquerque Journal Editorial: Junkets are never really free

25/07/2015 13:11

Albuquerque Journal Editorial: Junkets are never really free

Newspaper Albuquerque Journal has again referred to the Azerbaijani lobbying in the State of New Mexico.

"Had more of the state lawmakers who have traveled to Azerbaijan on the former Soviet republic’s dime been more willing to talk, one might be able to argue that Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen is simply naive when she says those paying for the 10-day, 14,000-mile trips expect nothing in return.

At the very least, the trips have earned the Azerbaijani government glowing state legislative memorials – for what they’re worth.

Published reports say at least 25 New Mexico legislators attended a convention in the Azerbaijan capital of Baku in 2013 – a trip surreptitiously financed by Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil company.

Papen, a Las Cruces Democrat, said she has no problem being feted by “countries out there that are trying to be democracies and are friends with the United States.”

But just how hard the country’s ruling party – the New Azerbaijan Party – is trying to foster a true democracy is debatable. Azerbaijan is listed as one of the 10 most censored countries in the world by the Committee to Protect Journalists. And Amnesty International says the government there has imprisoned critics, journalists and political activists, and has cited reports of torture and harsh treatment of protesters and opposition leaders.

New Mexico is hardly the only state legislature on Azerbaijan’s guest list: In 2013, Azerbaijan spent more than $2 million lobbying in the United States, making it one of the top 10 foreign spenders on lobbying, according to Even U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham made a trip – and brought back what she described as an “ugly” but expensive rug. That got her in trouble with the House Ethics Committee.

While Azerbaijan may not, as Papen puts it, deserve a “kick in the teeth” for its efforts to curry favor in the United States, the nation should not be judged through the prism of carefully orchestrated junkets and glowing memorials pushed by beneficiaries of those trips.

It’s perfectly fine to take trips and make people-to-people contacts with most any country. Even when those trips are bankrolled by foreign concerns, so long as the arrangements are disclosed. But over-the-top memorials that ignore reality look a lot like quid pro quo."

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