Congress Ends Decades-Old Disclosure Requirement for Free Trips, Reverses Itself Days Later

By Paul Riegler on 6 July 2014
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DSC_0590If you are a frequent traveler and wonder how your legislators can afford the same lifestyle you lead, take note: Following a year in which members of Congress took more trips than in any other since the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal, the House of Representatives quietly  removed the Watergate-era reform that required that privately sponsored trips be included on lawmakers’ annual financial-disclosure forms.

On Thursday, just days after the news hit the National Journal, House Ethics Chairman Mike Conaway quickly backpedaled.

“We will reverse that decision,” said Conaway on a local Texas radio show.

The June 1972 bungled break-in at Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel and Office Building exposed tremendous abuses of presidential power, and led to numerous reforms of U.S. laws and institutions aimed at limiting opportunities for special-interest groups and individuals to gain undue influence over an elected or government official.

Junkets to other countries, while sometimes legitimate fact-finding missions, are perceived by many as having the possibility of influencing legislators on the trip.  The cost of such excursions can run into the tens of thousands of dollars per individual, including business-class travel and higher-end hotels.  Lawmakers are sometimes invited to bring along a spouse as well.

In 2006, following the Abramoff scandal, lobbyists were barred from organizing such trips or underwriting their costs and non-profits have since filled the void.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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