Members Fail to Fill In Trip Details

Posted July 2, 2010 at 4:09pm

Lawmakers continue to trip over a bramble of travel disclosure rules nearly three years after the House tightened its reporting requirements, a Roll Call analysis of the chamber’s public records revealed.

Under more restrictive travel rules implemented in 2007, Members are required to seek pre-approval for privately sponsored travel from the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, commonly known as the ethics committee, and file reports detailing those trips upon their return with the Clerk of the House.

But Members must also disclose those trips — as well as travel including charity events — on their annual financial disclosure forms.

The ethics committee has oversight of both processes and directs Members to revise their reports when errors are detected.

But a Roll Call review of financial disclosure forms and a public database of travel records maintained by the Clerk found numerous discrepancies in which Members noted trips on their financial reports but failed to file detailed post-travel forms to the House, or did the exact opposite.

The review also found errors beyond Members’ control in the House travel database, such as two separate listings that identified Reps. Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-La.) and Steve King (R-Iowa) as staff to Democratic lawmakers. Those listings appear to have been corrected after Roll Call began its review.

Among the lawmakers who failed to file post-travel reports — the detailed public documents revealing the cost, sponsor and purpose of a trip — many cited “clerical error” in not turning in the forms to the Clerk and noted that the ethics panel had pre-approved the voyages.

Members who didn’t file post-travel reports included Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), who took an October 2009 trip sponsored by the nonprofit SER-Jobs for Progress National Inc. to its annual conference in Dallas; Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), who attended an Aspen Institute-sponsored visit to Amman, Jordan, in February 2009; Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who traveled to Ottawa in August 2009, as a guest of the Franklin Center for Global Policy Exchange; and Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), who attended the National Organization of Women National Conference in Indianapolis in June 2009.

Each of the lawmakers, who said they planned to file the travel reports, had already disclosed the trips on their annual financial disclosures.

Those reports require Members to reveal any travel valued at more than $335, along with the sponsor, destination, dates and duration of a trip, but not the exact cost.

At least one Member also reported filing a travel report, but the documents were not available in the public database until after Roll Call inquired about the trip.

Documents detailing the travels of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) to Jordan and Israel in February 2009, courtesy of the Aspen Institute, were published Wednesday, although time stamps on the documents indicate they were filed in March 2009. Members are required to file the reports within 15 days of completing a trip.

In other instances, lawmakers filed their travel reports with the House but failed to list the voyages on their annual financial disclosures.

Among those Members, Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-Ohio) skipped over his August 2009 trip to Tel Aviv sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, and Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) didn’t list an April 2009 jaunt to New York to speak at Shorenstein Properties LLC’s annual investor’s meeting.

Each of the offices said their respective lawmaker planned to file an amendment.

“While there was a clerical error on a financial disclosure form, we received all the appropriate approvals for the specified travel and details of the trip are public and were made available online,” Sestak spokesman Jonathon Dworkin said. “The Congressman believes he is accountable for ensuring all of the right procedures are followed and added an amendment to the form as soon as it was brought to his attention.”

At least one Member, Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.), unnecessarily revealed a journey on his financial disclosure forms. A Pastor aide said the lawmaker’s September 2009 trip to Pittsburgh credited to the Maritime Trades Department AFL-CIO should not have been listed because Pastor opted to pay for the trip himself.

In addition, a review of public records found that many lawmakers have already revised their 2010 financial disclosure forms to add information to the “travel payments and reimbursements” section.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) corrected her disclosure form on June 4 to add a Heritage Foundation-sponsored jaunt to Baltimore in February 2009. The public travel database reveals McMorris Rodgers also filed a belated travel report that same day.

Rep. Ron Paul amended his disclosure report to add a travel section, disclosing an April 2009 trip to Wake Forest College sponsored by the National Young Americans for Liberty, Wake Forest Young Americans for Liberty and the Wake Forest College Republicans. The Texas Republican had previously filed a travel disclosure on the trip in April 2009.

An aide to Rep. Tim Murphy said Wednesday that the Pennsylvania Republican had been notified by the ethics committee that he had failed to include an April 2009 trip to Chicago sponsored by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society on his financial disclosure. Murphy, who planed to file an amendment, had filed a travel report in April 2009.