Thursday, April 28, 2005


Finally, bi-partisan action in Washington!

Democrats and Republicans are stampeding in an effort to get on the same side of something: "correcting" their travel and expense records before they get caught in the same kind of mess as Tom DeLay. In an article written by Mike Allen for the Washington Post and carried on MSNBC, it becomes clear that there is no shortage of congressional representatives with questionable memories, incredibly bad reord-keeping, and, apparently, downright incompetent staffers in charge of their records.

Members of Congress are rushing to amend their travel and campaign records, fearing that the controversy over House Majority Leader Tom DeLay will trigger an ethics war that will bring greater scrutiny to their own travel and official activities.


Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) wrote to the Federal Election Commission on April 15 to report that he had discovered that the Washington restaurant Signatures had not charged his credit card -- as he said he had directed -- for a 2003 fundraiser for 16 people that cost $1,846.

In another case, an aide to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had not reported a 2004 trip to South Korea until a Washington Post reporter asked her office about it. Eddie Charmaine Manansala, Pelosi's special assistant on East Asian affairs, filed a disclosure form for the $9,087 trip a few hours after the newspaper's inquiry and sent a note to the ethics committee saying, "I did not know I was supposed to file these forms and I apologize for its lateness."

Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) even asked the ethics committee to investigate him after a reporter for the newspaper Roll Call pointed out that a travel disclosure form from 2001 listed the lobbying firm Rooney Group International as paying for a $1,782 trip to Boston, which would be a violation of House rules.

Abercrombie's aides said they have since determined that the lobbying firm's expenses were reimbursed by the nonprofit group that Abercrombie addressed on the trip, the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts. House rules state that the prohibition against lobbyists paying for members' travel applies "even where the lobbyist . . . will later be reimbursed for those expenses by a non-lobbyist client.

In other words, Abercrombie’s trip is a plain violation of the ethics rules…even after he explains it away. And Nancy Pelosi’s staff doesn’t know they’re supposed to file travel expense reports?

The list goes on:

Yesterday, an aide to Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-Tex.) filed a report saying she had not reported an $800 trip to Austin in January "due to pressing House business."

Two Republican freshmen -- Reps. Patrick T. McHenry (N.C.) and Lynn A. Westmoreland (Ga.) -- addressed a letter to Pelosi saying she "may have violated House Rules regarding privately sponsored travel" with a trip to Puerto Rico in 2001. Pelosi's aides supplied canceled checks that they said showed the trip was paid for by a nonprofit group, not a lobbyist.

The brouhaha arose because Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), who had accompanied Pelosi on the trip, had listed the lobbyist as the sponsor -- in error, she said.


"Every time we go down there to check on something or refile something, we have noticed someone is going through our file," said Jason C. Roe, chief of staff to Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.). "Some people are just resigned that everyone is going to get kicked in the teeth while this goes on."

Feeney had listed a lobbying firm as the sponsor of a 2003 trip to Florida. But his staff said that a nonprofit group had paid, after the Washington Times asked about the filing. Roe apologized for the "clerical error."

Cleveland local media, by the way, have reported on the travels of Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Pelosi’s travel buddy on the trip to Puerto Rico:

Democratic Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, of Cleveland, ranks first in Ohio in the number of congressional trips paid for by outside groups.

Since 2000, Jones has taken 47 trips for which outside groups paid more than $75,000.
The destinations included Taiwan, Malaysia, Egypt and Antigua.

Her travel ranked seventh overall among 598 current and former members of Congress in terms of outside-paid travel since 2000. The study was done by the watchdog group "PoliticalMoneyLine."

Her spokeswoman said Jones typically travels to address groups interested in legislation that come before committees on which Jones serves.

Yeah, I’m sure there are interested groups in Taiwan, Malaysia, Egypt and Antigua just clamoring to hear Stephanie Tubbs Jones’ views on legislation pending in the US House of representatives.

Now I know this is a dumb question, but I have to ask: if all these old reports are floating around, listing lobbyists as paying for trips, how come nobody noticed any of this before? Of course, they’re all just mistakes, and now they’ll all be cleaned up and “corrected”, but doesn’t anybody look at these reports they’re filing…or not filing? Why are there reports which clearly state violations of the House ethics rules sitting around waiting, unnoticed, for someone to “correct” them years later?

One final note from the original article:

Today [April 25], the House ethics committee plans to hold an hour-long "ethics briefing" for members and staff as a primer on ethics rules, including rules on gifts, travel, campaign activity and outside employment.

A day late and a dollar short, I’d say. A “primer on ethics rules”…some of these people have been in congress for years. Should they really need a “primer” on ethics rules? And one whole hour ever will they find the time to attend?

What a bunch of sloppy, sleazy, hypocritical jackasses.

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