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Aides Take Advantage of Rules to Extend Trips

David Becker/Getty Images File Photo
A handful of congressional staffers capitalized on two ethics rules when attending the International CES in Las Vegas this year.

Despite the restriction, the Ethics Committee in “exceptional circumstances” authorizes a second night’s stay, taking into account the availability of transportation to and from the destination, the distance traveled and if the member or staffer participating has such a full schedule of official activities that it would be difficult or impossible to complete travel in a 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 accept 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 states.

By combining the two provisions, several staffers this year stayed in Las Vegas for three nights and four days while still accepting round-trip transportation from the Consumer Electronics Association.

Two staffers in the office of Republican Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana — Curtis Rhyne and Ja’Ron Smith — flew to Las Vegas on Jan. 9 and did not return until Jan. 12, according to post-travel disclosure forms filed with the House Ethics Committee. At the International CES they “examined new technology that will be available to consumers to help prevent accidents resulting from distracted driving,” according to the forms.

Frederick Hill, communications director to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., flew in Jan. 6 and left Jan. 9. On Jan. 8, Hill attended a film on modern business Internet usage, went to a panel discussion, toured the conference floor for product demonstrations and went to a dinner reception.

Issa has in past years attended the conference as a private businessman, but a representative confirmed he did not go to Las Vegas for the show this January.

The Consumer Electronics Association has highlighted how its conferences affect policy. In a press release for this year’s show, it said more than 75 government guests were expected to be in attendance, and it noted how Issa, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro held a news conference at the 2012 gathering detailing how they would defeat legislation intended to combat online piracy. The release added that they made good on those plans just a week after the show closed.

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