But, while Shays may want his constituents to know about his first--and most daring--trip to Iraq, he apparently doesn't want them to know how he got there. Shays's moment of triumph in Iraq came about because he happened to already be in the Middle East--attending the third Qatar-American Conference on Free Markets and Democracy in the tiny oil-rich nation of Qatar. Shays's visit was paid for by The Islamic Free Market Institute, a nonprofit group founded by GOP ally Grover Norquist and run by a protégé of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff to help bring Muslims into the Republican fold. Days before he snuck across the border to cheer on Operation Iraqi Freedom, Shays was at the Doha Ritz Carlton, comparing Connecticut, a centuries-old, economically diverse democracy, to Qatar, a monarchy ruled by a single family since its independence in 1971. "This nation, like my small state, has always played a large role in advancing participatory democracy, civil discourse, and stable commerce," Shays told a well-heeled audience of Qatari politicians and businessmen over lunch.
Shays has been a strong advocate for public-disclosure rules over the years. "As public servants, we have a responsibility to uphold the ethics process, not weaken it," he told The Houston Chronicle in 2005, objecting to an effort to defang House ethics rules in the wake of revelations about Tom DeLay's overseas travels and ties to Abramoff. Those travel rules require members of Congress to file forms revealing all travel expenses paid by outside sources. But, despite his record of pushing for meticulous record-keeping, Shays's privately sponsored trip to Qatar was notably absent from his own annual federal financial disclosure form, filed in May 2004, in violation of House rules. Nor did he submit an amendment disclosing the sponsor of his Qatar trip until confronted in mid-October 2006 by The New Republic with internal Islamic Institute receipts for his plane tickets, which were provided by an Arab American source upset with Shays's foreign policy positions. Given his reputation and perennially contested district, it was a particularly foolhardy move.
The author of this piece, Garance Franke-Ruta, is quite the fan of the long paragraph, isn't he? Oh Well, surprise!