Feb. 13, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Tensions Between Ethics Watchdogs Evident in Per Diem Inquiry

“Representative Hastings frequently did not attend the scheduled meals because of other responsibilities and would usually dine elsewhere using his per diem,” the ethics committee report stated.

“Representative Hastings would generally make an appearance at the scheduled receptions and then leave to have dinner elsewhere,” it also stated, citing a Hastings aide and an unnamed military liaison. “They stated that it was also not unusual for Representative Hastings to have commitments other than those listed on the itineraries or to not eat at the scheduled events.”

Each of the lawmakers denied wrongdoing in interviews with the OCE or subsequent communications to the ethics committee, although some acknowledged retaining funds or using funds on spouse travel, which is prohibited, or souvenirs for staff or family.

In a July letter to the OCE, Butterfield contended that the House rules on foreign travel do not require Members to keep expense records or to refund excess funds.

“Alternatively, I request that you find that any misunderstanding of the rule should not be attributable to the member because of the failure of the Department of State or House Leadership to inform members of this responsibility,” he wrote.

In a letter to the OCE, Ortiz said he believed he used “all, or almost all” of his per diem funds “during my official travel.”

“Your investigation and the Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent May 13 announcement [instructing Members to return excess funds] have now put me and other members on notice that we have an obligation under current House Rules to return unspent per diem,” Ortiz wrote. “Now that this requirement has been clearly established, you can rest assured that I will keep accurate records to make sure House Rules are respected on any future travel.”

Both Hastings and Engel, however, told investigators that per diem funds rarely covered the costs of travel, and each have paid travel-related funds from their own pockets during official trips.

“When asked if he ever had per diem left over following a CODEL … [Engel] explained that he believed there were times that he had no per diem remaining and had to spend his personal money and there were times he had a little left, but it was negligible. Negligible meant less than $100 per trip,” the OCE report stated

According to the OCE report, Engel’s post-travel disclosures, which detail the use of per diem, were prepare and signed by a staffer. “Of the seven forms such as this that had his signature, only one of them was actually signed by him,” the report stated.

Engel, who told OCE investigators he uses per diem funds to purchase a souvenir for the aide who arranges the CODEL travel, said the forms were accurate.

In his interview with OCE staff, Aderholt also said he uses some of his per diem funds for souvenirs “such as T-shirts for his son” and “postcards, a doll, wallet and leather goods.”

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