In a private meeting, the House Ethics Committee secretly killed a decades-old rule that required members of Congress to disclose to the public trips they take that are paid for by lobbyists.
The rule, which had been in place since the post-Watergate ethic reforms, required members of the House to disclose any trips publicly that had been paid for by lobbyists.
The National Journal uncovered the change:
It’s going to be a little more difficult to ferret out which members of Congress are lavished with all-expenses-paid trips around the world after the House has quietly stripped away the requirement that such privately sponsored travel be included on lawmakers’ annual financial-disclosure forms.
The move made behind closed doors and without public announcement by the House Ethics Committee, reverses more than three decades of precedent. Gifts of free travel to lawmakers have appeared on the yearly financial form dating back its creation in the late 1970s, after the Watergate scandal. National Journal uncovered the deleted disclosure requirement when analyzing the most recent batch of yearly filings.
The tabs for these international excursions can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. One trip to Australia earlier this year cost nearly $50,000. Lawmakers are often invited to bring along their husbands or wives, fly in business class, and stay in plush four-star hotels. In the wake of the Abramoff scandal, lobbyists were banned from organizing or paying for these travels. But some of the nonprofits underwriting them today have extremely close ties to lobbying groups, including sharing staff, money, and offices.
The House Ethics Committee is different from other committees because it contains an equal number of Republicans and Democrats. This is a change that at least one Democrat on the committee had to agree to, but no one on either side is talking. There is no good reason of the Ethics Committee to reduce transparency, but that is exactly what they have done. Even worse, they were secretive about the change. The Ethics Committee met in private, and issued no public statement.
The rise of dark money in our post-Citizens United political landscape has made transparency nearly impossible. The House Ethics Committee has made it even more difficult to figure out who is buying your member of Congress. Hiding lavish trips from the people that they have sworn to represent is not behavior that encourages public trust. The ethics committee displayed an alarming lack of ethics by trying to keep the public in the dark.
The “People’s House” is anything but, unless by people they are referring to corporations, lobbyists, and millionaires, because they seem to be all that matters to the majority those serving in the House of Representatives.
Mr. Easley is the founder/managing editor and Senior White House and Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association