Members Must Repay $10,400 for Ethics Breach

Posted February 26, 2010 at 9:48am

Six Members must repay about $10,400 for a Caribbean trip they took in 2007 or 2008 that violated House gift rules.

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, commonly known as the ethics committee, announced Thursday night that after a nine-month investigation into travel sponsored by the Carib News Foundation in 2007 and 2008, it found that the trips violated House gift rules because of prohibitions on corporate contributions and that it had approved the trips based on “false and misleading information.”

Although the committee exonerated five of the six Members of wrongdoing — Reps. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Donald Payne (D-N.J.), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) and Del. Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands) — it will nonetheless require the lawmakers as well as Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), whom the committee admonished, to repay the costs of the trip.

“Nevertheless, since the Members did, in fact, receive impermissible gifts of travel, they must repay the costs of their trips to the respective entities that paid for their travel,” the committee announced. A full report is expected to be published Friday. “Because some portions of the transportations costs were paid by Carib News out of funds the actual source of which could not be determined, the Committee will require those funds to be paid to the U.S. Treasury.”

Under House rules, every Member or aide must obtain the ethics committee’s consent for privately sponsored travel, including a certification from the sponsor that the trip conforms to the chamber’s rules. Members are not allowed to accept multiple-day travel from private entities that employ lobbyists, but they may accept travel from nonprofit entities that are supported by private companies.

After each trip, Members and aides are also required to submit a form to the ethics committee certifying the travel, accommodations and activities matched those included in their pre-travel filing.

According to post-travel forms filed with the House Clerk, travel costs — including airfare, lodging and food — to the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort & Casino in St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles, in November 2008 ranged from $855 for Christensen to $1,980 for Kilpatrick and her sister. Similarly, Thompson and his spouse reported $1,400, and Rangel and Payne each reported $990.

Travel costs to the 2007 event at the Sandals Resort/Rex Resort in Antigua also cost about $900 per person. Rangel and Christensen each reported $900 in costs, Clarke reported $845, and Thompson and his spouse reported $1,529.