Outside groups reportedly spent nearly $20 million last year honoring elected officials and allied organizations – doling out everything from plaques to honorary degrees to donations to favored groups. 

Despite rules that prohibit gifts to federal officials and put limits on campaign contributions, hosting grand gala dinners and lavish get-togethers is legal. Many of these ceremonies – put on by companies, unions and universities -- include honorary degrees and awards, as well as fundraisers and donations for organizations these officials support.

The nearly $20 million in “honorary expenses” came from more than 240 groups, and went to more than 100 organizations, according to Senate disclosure records analyzed by The Hill

Robert Kelner, the chair of Covington and Burlington’s law practice, told The Hill these kinds of honorary expenses are “a very common way of building relationships with members of Congress.” 

Last year, for instance, Johns Hopkins reportedly spent over $600,000 on its commencement ceremony which included Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings and Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health as recipients of honorary degrees.

Chevron even gave $50,000 to the State Department last May, a fraction of the reported $687,000 in honorary expenses; there is no regulation on the amount of money corporations such as Chevron can give directly to federal agencies.

According to The Hill, compliance lawyers say enforcement over the expenses is essentially little-to-none.