Mollohan Brushes Off Request for New Travel System

Posted August 1, 2005 at 3:33pm

Rep. Alan Mollohan (W.Va.), the top Democrat on the House ethics committee, has brushed off a request by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to create a new system for approving privately funded travel by Members and staffers.

In a letter to Hastert on Friday, Mollohan said the ethics committee already has an informal system in place to vet privately funded trips. Mollohan also noted that any changes to House ethics rules will have to be approved on the floor by the entire body, and that GOP leaders should consult with their Democratic counterparts before attempting to enact such changes.

“While the House rules do not require Members or staff to consult with the Committee on proposed trips, it has long been Committee policy to encourage them to do so, and a significant percentage of the advisory opinion letters that the Committee issues concern privately funded trips for Members and/or staff,” Mollohan wrote. “Certainly the Committee must continue its efforts to educate Members and staff on the rules and encourage them to seek Committee advice whenever they receive a trip invitation.”

Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and a number of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle face questions over whether lobbyists or lobbying firms improperly funded trips taken during the past seven years. The ethics committee is expected to begin reviewing these allegations in coming months. Corporations, trade associations and nonprofit groups may underwrite the costs of such trips, but lobbyists and lobbying firms may not.

Mollohan also took issue with what he believes are attempts by lawmakers to blame the ethics rules or the ethics committee for potential violations of travel rules.

The West Virginia Democrat wrote, “It is also important to note that in proceeding on the matter of privately funded travel, the Committee must take care to ensure that there is no suggestion that the rules themselves are to blame for any problems that have occurred — i.e., there can be no suggestion whatsoever that this is an effort to scapegoat the rules for improper Member conduct. I believe we can all agree that Members who are sophisticated enough to pass the laws of the land are sophisticated enough to understand the straightforward House rules on privately funded travel.”

Mollohan added: “In this regard, it is also my view that the Committee will be in a far [better] position to evaluate the House Rules on privately funded travel and any proposed amendments to them after the Committee has investigated and resolved the allegations that have been made in recent months.”

Ron Bonjean, Hastert’s spokesman, said his boss will continue to push for a new trip approval system, despite Mollohan’s negative comments.

“With dozens of Republicans and Democrats, including Minority Leader [Nancy] Pelosi and Minority Whip [Steny] Hoyer, potentially having problems with the rules on privately funded travel, and more than 200 lawmakers rushing to amend their travel disclosure reports, it is clear that the present system is not working, and we need private travel reform that includes specific preapproval of trips,” said Bonjean.