Romney plans trip to Israel as guest of powerful lobbying group
BOSTON (AP) -- Gov. Mitt Romney plans to travel to Israel in September
as a guest of America's most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group.
Politicial observers say the expedition could be an attempt to pad his
thin foreign policy credentials as he considers a presidential run.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, arranged
Romney's trip, which is scheduled for Sept. 23-29, The Boston Globe
reported. The group has powerful sway in Washington and offers free
trips to members of Congress, policy makers, and other U.S. leaders.
Romney's itinerary is still undetermined, but a spokesman described
the trip as a trade mission. AIPAC trips typically include meetings
with top Israeli government officials, political leaders and
Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney's spokesman, said the trip will focus on
helping Massachusetts businesses. The invitation was officially
extended by the American Israel Education Foundation, AIPAC's
The trip would be Romney's first in more than 21/2 years as governor.
Former Gov. William F. Weld, who also harbored national ambitions,
took 11 international trips during his six years as governor.
Fehrnstrom said Romney, a Republican who has in the past described
trade missions as "boondoggles," will also study Israel's approach to
The trip could help fill gaps in Romney's resume on international
issues, and introduce him to a group that can offer financial support
for a presidential campaign.
"Mitt Romney will be the latest in a long line of elected officials,
particularly governors, who want to burnish their foreign policy
credentials," said Steven Grossman, a former Democratic candidate for
governor and the one-time chairman of the American Israel Public
"I have no doubt if he runs, he will use the fact that he took the
trip as a calling card to the American Jewish community."
The governor has said he'll make a decision on his political future
this fall. Romney has hinted he may forego a 2006 re-election bid to
focus on a 2008 run for president.
Members of Congress and government watchdog groups have criticized
such trips and special interests' ability to sway American policy making.
"The general concern for all these trips is the ability to buy access
and influence," said Mary Boyle, spokeswoman for Common Cause in its
Romney's office has asked the state Ethics Commission for guidance on
whether he can accept the offer. Fehrnstrom said the cost is unclear,
but a weeklong trip with the committee typically costs more than
$5,000 per person. Romney plans to bring his wife, Ann.
"These trips allow participants to meet with a wide variety of people
whose views span the political spectrum, both among the Israelis and
the Palestinians, academics, journalists, business leaders, and
experts in homeland security," said Josh Bloch, the committee's spokesman.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has 70,000 members and
spends tens of millions of dollars each year lobbying members of
Congress. It courts both Republicans and Democrats.
AIPAC was recently pulled into a Washington probe into whether a
Pentagon analyst, Lawrence A. Franklin, leaked classified military
information to AIPAC employees. The former employees have not been
charged, and the organization denies any wrongdoing. Franklin has also
pleaded innocent to a six-count indictment.
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