Ten members of the U.S. House of Representatives have been implicated in an ethics investigation by an independent office of Congress, which published a confidential report leaked to the Washington Post. The 70-page document describes events leading up to a 2013 conference, the U.S.-Azerbaijan Convention:Vision for the Future, attended by many Washington officials in Baku on the Caspian Sea — sponsored by the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR).
Those under investigation received travel compensation totaling $112,899, and gifts, including rugs deemed to be worth between $2,500–$10,000 each, from two of SOCAR’s Houston-based non-profit organizations. Wire transfer records found by investigators indicate that SOCAR paid it’s Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan $750,000, which their legal team said was for “dues . . . used as funding for the Convention.”
The report found insufficient evidence that any of the 10 knew the true source of the conference’s funding, or used their office to influence policy in favor of SOCAR. The details of the investigation seem to contradict both these claims however, as the report also says that SOCAR issued conference invitations, sponsored the Congress member’s visa entries, and decorated the convention halls for the conference with the SOCAR logo.
SOCAR had also been lobbying Congress since 2012 to exempt a $28 billion natural gas pipeline project they were partners in from Iranian economic sanctions. Iran borders Azerbaijan to the south.
The state oil company opened a Washington office that year and held a conference in downtown D.C., which three of the 10 attended — Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.).
At the time of the 2012 conference, Congress was debating the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act, which contained an exemption to Iranian sanctions for the pipeline. A second sanctions bill passed later that year again with the same exemption, and was signed into law by the President in early January 2013. Lawmakers started receiving invitations to the Baku conference soon afterwards.
Other current House members that attended the 2013 U.S.-Azerbaijan conference were, Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), Yvette Clark (D-N.Y.), Danny Davis (D-Ill.), Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas), Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.).