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December 19, 2014

Ethics Chairman Says Panel Will Reverse Decision on Travel Disclosures (Updated)

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Conaway said the panel is backtracking on a ruling loosening disclosure rules. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 3:27 p.m. | House Ethics Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway said Thursday on a local Texas radio program that his panel would overturn a change to annual disclosure forms that removed the requirement of lawmakers to report on privately funded trips.

According to National Journal, which first broke the news about the change, Conaway told a local talk radio program in his Texas district that the committee would “reverse the decision.”

The change to the financial disclosure forms caused a good bit of controversy earlier this week after watchdog groups and some lawmakers — most notably, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — called on the Ethics Committee to undo the disclosure form revision.

Under new rules issued earlier this year by the Ethics Committee, lawmakers didn’t need to report privately funded trips on their annual financial disclosure forms.

Members still needed to get pre-approval from the Ethics Committee before taking privately funded trips, and still needed to fill out a post-travel disclosure form 15 days after a trip — the information of which is available in searchable form on the House Clerk’s website.

But Conaway, according to the National Journal, told the radio station that he and the ranking Democrat on the panel, Linda T. Sanchez of California, have decided to undo the change.

While he said there was “no malicious intent,” and he still called the reporting requirement “redundant” and “duplicative,” Conaway said the change was “a wrong decision and we’re going to fix it.”

Conaway seemed peeved that the panel had to undo the decision, saying the controversy happened ”only because one reporter who makes a living jacking people up about these trips.”

“We had gotten not one complaint from the public,” Conaway said. “Not one person had looked for this information except this reporter.”

Conaway also said he was frustrated with his colleagues “throwing Linda and I under the bus over a decision that was made months ago.”

Specifically, Conaway mentioned “Mrs. Pelosi and a guy named Mike Fitzpatrick,” both of whom, he said, “set their hair on fire.”

“Their righteous indignation would be a lot more believable if they’d have said something in May when they didn’t file — when they filed their return without that disclosure,” Conaway said.

On Thursday afternoon, Conaway and Sanchez released a tersely-worded announcement that they were reverting back to the original reporting protocol, accompanied by seven pages-worth of “questions and answers” that primarily seek to debunk the media’s coverage of the whole episode.

“Some recent press reports regarding this change have created confusion in the House community by suggesting that Members and House staff no longer have to make any disclosure of privately sponsored travel, that the public would no longer have access to any information about privately sponsored travel, and that the rules governing what types of privately sponsored travel are acceptable have been changed,” they wrote. “None of that is correct.”

“This return to the Committee’s earlier guidance will not result in any additional substantive disclosure,” the announcement said, in the closest it came to actually announcing the change.

Meanwhile, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Melanie Sloan, said in a public statement that the Ethics Committee quickly bowed to public pressure and reversed “a terrible decision.”

“Rep. Conaway’s feigned surprise over the controversy based on his claim that the public hadn’t complained about the decision is ludicrous,” Sloan said. “Like everything the committee does, the decision was made secretly, with no notice or comment and behind closed doors.  This episode demonstrates that the more Americans learn about how the Ethics Committee operates, the more they disapprove.”

Emma Dumain contributed to this report.

Related:

Pelosi, Watchdogs Slam Travel Disclosure Changes

  • YONATAN C

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  • Fargo Wells

    Since free markets are dynamic and unpredictable, one must always be ready to adjust to changes within them that may be hard to understand.

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