Checks Cut for ’07, ’08 Carib Trips

Posted April 26, 2010 at 6:46pm

Members who took part in two Caribbean trips that violated House ethics rules have begun to repay thousands of dollars in travel-related costs, federal campaign finance reports show.

According to Federal Election Commission reports filed in April, Reps. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) and Del. Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands) repaid travel or lodging costs tied to the 2007 and 2008 trips.

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, commonly known as the ethics panel, ruled in February that trips sponsored by the Carib News Foundation violated House rules on corporate-funded travel.

Although the committee exonerated five of the six Members of wrongdoing — ruling that it had approved the trips based on false information provided by the foundation — it still demanded that each lawmaker repay the costs of their excursions.

Rangel — the only Member admonished by the ethics panel, which held him responsible because his aides were aware that some of the funding for the trips came from prohibited sources — reported issuing four travel-related payments totaling nearly $3,500 in March.

The New York lawmaker paid $420 to the Government of Antigua & Barbuda for lodging at the Sandals Grande Antigua Resort and Spa in 2007 and $2,018 to American Airlines for transportation to that conference.

Rangel, who turned over the Ways and Means Committee gavel in March, also paid $290 to the Government of St. Maarten for lodging at the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort and Casino in 2008 and $752 to the U.S. Treasury for airfare.

According to the House ethics report, portions of the 2007 and 2008 conferences were sponsored with funds provided by AT&T, Verizon and American Airlines to the Carib News Foundation, a private nonprofit group based in New York, specifically for the conferences. The Carib News Foundation paid for the airline tickets in 2008, but Members will repay those costs to the U.S. Treasury.

Kilpatrick, who attended the 2008 conference, paid the Government of St. Maarten $870 for her hotel stay and paid $1,252 to the U.S. Treasury to cover airfare costs for herself and her sister, Marsha Cheeks.

Christensen attended both conferences and reported a $420 payment to the Antigua and Barbuda government for her 2007 hotel stay. She also reported a $585 payment to the U.S. Treasury, an amount equal to her transportation costs for the 2008 conference.

The ethics report mandated that she also repay $1,358 for airfare in 2007 and $465 for her hotel at the 2008 event.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Yvette Clarke (D) said the New York lawmaker has repaid her portion of the 2007 trip from campaign funds, although those payments did not appear in first-quarter FEC reports.

“Rep. Clarke has paid for the Carib News Foundation trip in 2007 as of April 2010 through her campaign funds,” spokeswoman Judith Kargbo wrote in an e-mail. She did not say how much Clarke paid, although the ethics report indicates that the amount owed is about $2,200, including $1,358 for airfare and $840 for lodging.

The offices of Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Donald Payne (D-N.J.) did not return telephone calls for this article.

According to the ethics investigation, Thompson is required to pay more than $7,600 for his participation in the 2007 and 2008 conferences.

Thompson must repay $1,600 for transportation for himself and his wife in 2008 as well as $870 in hotel costs and $4,330 in airfare and $840 in hotel costs in 2007.

Payne was ordered to repay about $900 for travel and lodging at the 2008 conference.

Although Members may repay the costs of the travel from their campaign funds, lawmakers could also pay for the travel from their personal funds, in which case payments would not appear in public records.

Each of the Members who participated in the Caribbean trips must repay significantly more than the costs initially reported in public travel records filed with the Clerk of the House. The ethics investigation ruled that the Carib News Foundation’s officers incorrectly reported the costs of transportation and lodging to Members, who in turn submitted the information in their post-travel reports.

Those reports indicated, for example, that Thompson’s airfare for the 2007 trip cost about $364, rather than $2,165, the amount American Airlines reported to the ethics panel as fair market value.