News Column

House Drops Change in Reporting Lawmakers' Trips

July 3, 2014

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) In an abrupt retreat, the House Ethics Committee said Thursday that it was dropping changes it had made in how lawmakers publicly report trips they take that are financed by interest groups.

The bipartisan panel said House members will have to continue filing brief information about privately financed trips in the public reports they file annually on their personal finances.

Just Tuesday, news organizations reported that the ethics committee had quietly decided to no longer require that information on those forms. That drew howls from open government advocates and lawmakers including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., though Republicans noted that Democrats on the ethics panel had signed off on the change.

Never altered was the requirement that legislators file even more detailed facts about each privately funded trip to the House clerk's office, which posts the information publicly on a searchable website.

In a written statement, the committee said it was withdrawing the change "in light of feedback we have received from our fellow members and after further consideration." It said the decision reflected the committee's goal of enforcing House rules "in a manner that protects the integrity of the House."

The panel released that statement shortly after House Ethics Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said during a radio interview in his district Thursday that with lawmakers required to report travel information electronically, including it on their financial disclosure forms was duplicative.

Conaway said he'd received no complaints about the changes from the public or other lawmakers until articles about it appeared on Tuesday, when it was first reported by the National Journal.

Conaway said Pelosi and Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., "set their hair on fire" after those reports and added, "Their righteous indignation would be a lot more believable" if they had complained when they filed their own financial disclosure forms in May.

"It's a big deal because a reporter made it a big deal," Conaway said on the Brian and Leland morning show on Newstalk 102.3 KXYL in Brownwood, Texas. "I screwed up, I fixed it, moving on."

In a press release, Fitzpatrick congratulated the ethics committee for listening to lawmakers' demands "to be held to a higher standard."

House members must get ethics committee approval for privately paid travel before the trip and file detailed information about their travel including costs within 15 days of returning. That information is then available publicly on the House clerk's website.

Lawmakers' personal financial disclosure forms cover the previous year's travel and do not request information about price tags.


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