Nancy Pelosi Says Decision to Delete Reporting Requirement for Free Trips ‘Must Be Reversed’

A spokesman for Speaker Boehner says Democrats already signed off on “bipartisan change to reduce duplicative paperwork.”

Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a news conference June 12, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
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Shane Goldmacher
July 1, 2014, 9:15 a.m.

House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi said Tues­day that the House Eth­ics Com­mit­tee’s de­cision to stop re­quir­ing law­makers to pub­lish the free trips they take on their an­nu­al dis­clos­ure forms “must be re­versed.” But while Pelosi was quick to con­demn the re­duced dis­clos­ure, mem­bers of her own party had pre­vi­ously signed off on the change.

The Eth­ics Com­mit­tee is one of the few pan­els in Con­gress di­vided equally between Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats. That means that rank­ing mem­ber Linda Sanc­hez, D-Cal­if., and her Demo­crat­ic col­leagues (Reps. Mi­chael Cap­uano, Yvette Clarke, and Ted Deutch and Del. Pedro Pier­lu­isi) had to have ap­proved the de­leted dis­clos­ure re­quire­ment, along with Re­pub­lic­ans led by com­mit­tee Chair­man Mi­chael Con­away of Texas.

“Rep. Pelosi’s staff needs to talk to her rep­res­ent­at­ive on the Eth­ics Com­mit­tee, who signed off on this bi­par­tis­an change to re­duce du­plic­at­ive pa­per­work,” said Mi­chael Steel, a spokes­man for House Speak­er John Boehner.

An aide to Pelosi con­firmed that she was un­aware of the new policy un­til Na­tion­al Journ­al re­por­ted late Monday that the Eth­ics pan­el had quietly de­leted the re­quire­ment that all-ex­penses-paid jour­neys fun­ded by private groups be pub­lished on law­makers’ an­nu­al fin­an­cial-dis­clos­ure forms.

Sanc­hez’s of­fice re­ferred ques­tions to the Eth­ics Com­mit­tee on Monday and did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment Tues­day.

Law­makers’ privately sponsored trips must still be re­por­ted sep­ar­ately to the House’s Of­fice of the Clerk with­in 15 days of travel and pub­lished on­line there. But the yearly forms of law­makers are the primary source of fin­an­cial in­form­a­tion on them, and among the most scru­tin­ized. Free trips for law­makers have been re­por­ted there since the form’s cre­ation in the late 1970s.

“While the com­mit­tee’s aim was to sim­pli­fy the dis­clos­ure pro­cess, Con­gress must al­ways move in the dir­ec­tion of more dis­clos­ure, not less,” Pelosi said in her state­ment Tues­day.

The House Eth­ics Com­mit­tee had de­clined to com­ment on Monday why it made the change. But in a rare pub­lic state­ment on Tues­day, Tom Rust, the com­mit­tee’s chief coun­sel, said that “the com­mit­tee’s non­par­tis­an staff re­com­men­ded a num­ber of changes to the fin­an­cial-dis­clos­ure forms, in­clud­ing elim­in­at­ing the need to re­port less in­form­a­tion about private travel than the trav­el­er had already pub­licly dis­closed.”

Along with Pelosi, oth­er Demo­crat­ic law­makers dis­agreed with the re­moved dis­clos­ure re­quire­ment on Tues­day. “The bot­tom line is it sends a bad mes­sage,” Rep. Mi­chael Quigley, D-Ill., a co­chair of the Con­gres­sion­al Trans­par­ency Caucus, said in an in­ter­view. “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.”

Quigley de­clined to cri­ti­cize his Demo­crat­ic col­leagues on the Eth­ics pan­el who had signed off on the re­duced dis­clos­ure. “I don’t think they were try­ing to do something in­ap­pro­pri­ate,” he said. “I just think they had a dif­fer­ent point of view.”

Quigley said “du­plic­at­ive” re­port­ing isn’t a bad thing and that “one-stop shop­ping” is crit­ic­al for com­plete pub­lic dis­clos­ure. “Very few people are so savvy that they know how to find things and they should all be in one spot as a res­ult,” Quigley said. “They’re not like, ‘I’ve looked at his per­son­al dis­clos­ure and now I have to look at the clerk’s site to get this in­form­a­tion.’ “

Rep. Dave Loeb­sack, D-Iowa, said in a state­ment Tues­day that he will in­tro­duce le­gis­la­tion to re­verse the rule upon the House’s re­turn from its Ju­ly 4 con­gres­sion­al re­cess. “These kinds of back­room deals and chan­ging of the rules in the middle of the night is ex­actly why Con­gress has a lower ap­prov­al rat­ing than cock­roaches and traffic jams,” he said.

Pelosi ad­ded that if the Eth­ics Com­mit­tee does not re­verse it­self on its own, “we will call upon the speak­er to al­low a vote on le­gis­la­tion to re­verse this de­cision.”

Steel’s state­ment that this was a “bi­par­tis­an change to re­duce du­plic­at­ive pa­per­work,” however, sug­gests such a vote is un­likely.

The de­le­tion of the re­quire­ment to re­port trips on yearly fin­an­cial forms comes as law­makers are in­creas­ingly trav­el­ing the world on private groups’ dime. In 2013, law­makers and their aides par­ti­cip­ated in nearly 1,900 trips at a cost of more than $6 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to Le­gis­torm, which com­piles travel re­cords.

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