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.
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.
“We remind you that, because the trip sponsor employs a federal lobbyist, you may participate in officially connected activity on one calendar day only. For the purposes of this trip, officially connected activity includes attending conference sessions and visiting the product exhibits on the ‘Show Floor,’” read the approval letters from House Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.).
So on one day and one day only, Congressional attendees went to technology panels, saw product demonstrations and listened to presentations by leaders in technology and policy. The rest of the time they were barred from participating in any official business.
Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.), for example, flew to Las Vegas on Jan. 8 for a four-day trip, leaving the city Jan. 11. The association spent about $2,000 on hotel accommodations at the Wynn Casino, airfare and meals for Long and his wife. A post-travel disclosure form filed with the Ethics Committee shows that Long spent Jan. 8 in Las Vegas at his own expense, leaving two and half additional days to attend the conference and sightsee. Long’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Benjamin Branch, the senior policy adviser to Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), likewise requested a second night’s lodging and also extended the trip at his own expense. Branch flew to Las Vegas on Jan. 10 and departed Jan. 13, reporting that Jan. 12 would be at his own expense. The association spent about $610 on his round-trip airfare, $593 on his hotel and $224 on his meals while in Las Vegas.
The House Ethics Committee will, in “exceptional circumstances,” authorize a second night’s stay on a lobbyist-funded trip, taking into account the availability of transportation to and from the location of the event, such as whether the location is international or across several time zones and if the Member or staffer participating has such a full schedule of officially connected activities that would make it difficult or impossible to travel to or from on the same day.
The rules likewise allow travelers to extend trips at their own expense by taking additional days immediately preceding or following the official portion of the trip and still accepting round-trip transportation from the sponsor, provided certain criteria are met.
“As a general rule, when the number of days for personal travel exceeds the number of days of the privately-sponsored trip, the gift rule does not permit acceptance of round-trip transportation from the private source. Especially with regard to extending a one-day event trip at one’s personal expense, Members and staff should consult the Committee’s Office of Advice and Education for guidance before arranging the travel,” the House Ethics Manual says.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.