Speaker D. Paul Ryan should suspend privately funded foreign travel by House members and staff, watchdog organizations said Thursday in a two-page letter that asks the Wisconsin Republican to launch a formal task force to review travel rules.
"The amount of privately-sponsored travel, once slashed by [the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act] to one-third its previous levels, is again rising near to the level of the Jack Abramoff travel junket era," the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Public Citizen and others warned. Ryan has accepted only two privately financed trips abroad over the past 15 years, according to Legistorm. A database of congressional travel from 2000 to present shows Ryan traveled to Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates with the Islamic Institute in 2004 and Tel Aviv, Israel, with the American Israel Education Foundation in 2005. He's taken a total of 17 privately funded trips, mainly to domestic destinations.
Members Weigh in on Ryan's First Week
Citing reports from CQ Roll Call and other news organizations on privately funded trips to Azerbaijan and Turkey, the groups suggested controversy surrounding the true sources and purposes of privately financed foreign travel "has damaged the credibility of the House and undermined public confidence in the institution."
The House Ethics Committee has cleared lawmakers of wrongdoing in those cases. In its report on travel to a conference in Baku, Azerbaijan, the panel stated it could not complete its investigation because many potential witnesses from foreign countries refused to cooperate.
Evidence of "concerted, possibly criminal, efforts by various non-House individuals and entities to mislead the House travelers and the Committee about the Trips’ true sponsors and the funding sources" has been referred to the Justice Department for further review.
Until the rules are reviewed and strengthened, the watchdogs argue that the trips should not continue. They want Ryan to create a bipartisan task force, including the chairs and ranking members of the House Ethics and House Administration committees and the two co-chairmen of the Office of Congressional Ethics, to study the issue.
Related: Hidden Cash Financed Lawmakers’ Turkey Trips Ethics Office Releases Report Detailing Lawmaker Travel to Azerbaijan Pressure Mounts for Release of Azerbaijan Report Ethics Battle Still Brewing Over Azerbaijan Travel Azerbaijan Travel Probe Shows Strained Ties Between Congress’ Ethics Cops See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.