Ethics Chair: House Will Reverse Itself on Disclosure of Free Trips

The panel’s decision to delete a disclosure requirement — as lawmakers’ travel climbs — sparked quick criticism.

National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
July 3, 2014, 7:53 a.m.

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.

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