The Consumer Electronics Association spent about $2,000 on hotel accommodations at the Wynn Casino, airfare and meals for Rep. Billy Long and his wife. A disclosure form shows that Long self-expensed one day of the four-day trip to Las Vegas.
In recent years, the lawmakers and staffers lucky enough to snag an invite to the annual Consumer Electronics Show were largely forced by House and Senate rules to limit their fun in Las Vegas to one day.
But through the clever use of loopholes, this year, about a dozen Members and staffers (and family) were able to convert the convention into a four-day junket, with the Consumer Electronics Association still picking up the bulk of the tab.
And it’s all within the rules.
Travel disclosure reports filed with the House Ethics Committee show that participants used an exemption that permits additional travel time to far-off locations and paid their own hotel bills for an extra day or two, allowing them to spend several days in Vegas and still accept round-trip airfare and other expenses from the association — exactly what a 2007 rules change was supposed to eliminate.
The 110th Congress enacted new rules that bar entities that retain or employ lobbyists from sponsoring most forms of Congressional travel that last more than one day but left open the possibility that an additional night’s lodging would be approved in “exceptional” circumstances and that travelers could extend the trip out of their own pocket. Combined, the two provisions allow a one-day trip to morph into an excursion of four or more days.
“The point is to make sure these trips are business-related and do not turn into vacation junkets,” Public Citizen’s Craig Holman said. “By combining these two, it turns what should be a quick business trip into a junket. This is exactly what we wanted to stop.”
At least 51 lawmakers and staffers attended the show in mid-January compliments of the association, which shelled out more than $74,000 for their airfare, hotel accommodations and other expenses, according to tallies provided by LegiStorm. Those totals could rise as stragglers in the Senate file their post-trip disclosure reports, which are due 30 days after the trip is completed.
Of those who attended, about a dozen took the additional travel allowance and also requested days at their own expense, typically wedging the personal day in between a day of travel and a day of officially connected business. Last year, by contrast, the association spent $31,232 to send 22 lawmakers and staffers to the annual technology show and only one staffer reported spending more than two nights in Las Vegas, covering one leg of his travel expenses in order to do so.
Though the CEA spent nearly $3 million lobbying the federal government last year, according to OpenSecrets.org, House ethics rules permit lawmakers and staffers to accept a one-day trip to the electronics show. Attendees were reminded of the one-day restriction when they received pre-travel approval letters this year, lest they be tempted to spend extra time in the showroom playing with the newest gizmos.
Rep. Bill Cassidy has his blood drawn by Alesha Barbour during a free hepatitis screening in the Rayburn House Office Building hosted by the Congressional Viral Hepatitis Caucus to recognize "National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day."
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