House Ethics Committee Chairman Mike Conaway said Thursday that his panel would undo its controversial decision to delete the requirement that lawmakers list free trips they receive on their annual disclosure reports.
“We will reverse that decision,” Conaway said during an appearance on a local radio talk show in his Texas district. “Heard first in Brownwood, Texas,” the Republican told listeners, one of whom provided a recording to National Journal.
National Journal first reported earlier this week that the Ethics Committee had quietly deleted the disclosure requirement behind closed doors and without any public announcement. Watchdog groups criticized the maneuver and, amid public criticism, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said it “must be reversed.”
Conaway, who had previously avoided any public comment on the matter, said there had been “no malicious intent” and declared Thursday, “It was a wrong decision and we’re going to fix it.”
The Ethics panel is one of the few committees in Congress equally divided between Republicans and Democrats. Conaway said he and ranking member Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., who had previously signed off on the change, had jointly decided to re-implement disclosure of free trips on annual forms.
“Linda and I have reversed the decision,” Conaway said. He said lawmakers would have between 15 and 30 days to amend their filings to include the free trips that they received from private sponsors in 2013.
Even in reversal, Conaway defended the change as part of “an overall look” at disclosure as lawmakers move to an electronic-filing format. He noted that even with the change the free trips are still disclosed separately, and sooner, to the House’s Office of the Clerk, where they are posted online.
“This report on an annual basis is redundant, it’s duplicative,” Conaway said. ” … So it’s out there, we’re not hiding anything from anybody.”
Watchdog groups and some transparency advocates in Congress, however, have noted that the yearly forms are the most scrutinized document on lawmakers’ finances. “The bottom line is it sends a bad message. With the public’s trust in Congress at an all-time low, you don’t want to send a message that it can be more difficult to find out information,” Rep. Michael Quigley, D-Ill., said in an interview earlier this week.
Conaway said the firestorm occurred “only because one reporter who makes a living jacking people up about these trips” wrote about the issue.
“We had gotten not one complaint from the public,” he added of the unannounced change. “Not one person had looked for this information except this reporter.”
Conaway expressed greater frustration with Democrats in Congress who had criticized the change after the National Journal report.
“What I do get upset with is my colleagues throwing Linda and I under the bus over a decision that was made months ago,” he said.
He specifically named “Mrs. Pelosi and a guy named [Rep.] Mike Fitzpatrick, who set their hair on fire — their righteous indignation would be a lot more believable if they’d have said something in May when they didn’t file — when they filed their return without that disclosure.”
Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican, had sent a public letter to Conaway and the Ethics Committee urging them to reverse the change on Wednesday.