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September 2, 2014

Pelosi, Government Watchdogs Slam Ethics Committee Disclosure Change (Updated)

pelosi 240 101713 445x281 Pelosi, Government Watchdogs Slam Ethics Committee Disclosure Change (Updated)

Pelosi is critical of new rules on House travel. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 2:58 p.m. | Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is calling on the House Ethics Committee to reverse a change regarding travel disclosure requirements, characterizing the new rule as a step in the direction of less transparency.

The statement came Tuesday afternoon, after a National Journal report on a change to members’ annual financial disclosure forms. Under the new guidance, members do not have to say on their yearly disclosure forms what trips they took and how much they cost.

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

But Pelosi said Tuesday that while the Ethics Committee seems to want to simplify the disclosure process, “Congress must always move in the direction of more disclosure, not less.”

“If the Ethics Committee does not act, then we will call upon the Speaker to allow a vote on legislation to reverse this decision,” Pelosi said in her statement. “In the meantime, Members are encouraged to disclose such trips to both the Clerk and in their annual disclosures.”

But Speaker John A. Boehner’s staff didn’t think Pelosi or her staff had done their research.

A spokesman for Boehner, Michael Steel, said Pelosi’s staff “needs to talk to her representative on the Ethics Committee, who signed off on this bipartisan change to reduce duplicative paperwork.”

In a rare public statement, the Ethics Committee staff director, Tom Rust, noted that members still needed prior approval from the Ethics Committee and still needed to file paperwork after the trip.

“Neither of those requirements has been changed or diluted in any way,” Rust said.

He also noted that it was the Committee’s nonpartisan staff who recommended the change to the financial disclosure forms. ”The Committee adopted these changes and publicly highlighted them on page 2 of the financial disclosure instructions, which were provided to all financial disclosure filers and posted on the Committee’s public web site months ago,” Rust said. “The Committee is committed to effective and efficient public disclosure, and will continue to look for opportunities to improve the public filings required of Members and staff.”

But even before the Ethics Committee could defend itself, government watchdog groups were already having a field day with the new guidance.

Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, called the change a ”blatant attempt to avoid accountability.”

“The only Americans who would possibly be in favor of this change are members of Congress,” Sloan said in a release.

On the phone Tuesday, Sloan explained that she doesn’t believe the clerk’s office forms are as easily accessible as the financial disclosure forms. She also wasn’t buying the explanation that the annual forms were duplicative and therefore unnecessary, noting in an ironic tone that, “there’s never any duplication in the government.”

In 2007, the House mandated that members disclose their travel to the House clerk. Before that, the yearly report was the only official reporting mechanism available to the public.

Part of the reasoning for the Ethics Committee change may have its roots in those House rules adopted in 2007. House Rule XXV states that these trips should be considered gifts to the House, not individual members.

Still, Sloan wasn’t buying the argument.

“Whatever explanation they’re giving, the point is to decrease the accountability for these trips,” she said.

 

  • Yonatan YONATAN

    It’s been six months without an unemployment extension bill for the three million unemployed families still without benefits. The republicans senate has made every effort to delay the vote to render it too late for passing. This was done in a very calculated manner, without compassion or common decency towards these struggling families. The republican senate has destined these families to financial ruin and utter poverty. They have walked away from the issue, leaving these families without an income source. However, they fought tooth and nail for the Koch Brother’s Oil Pipeline bill to be passed. They have demonstrated for whom they work for, and it’s not the average American, living paycheck to paycheck. The republicans are working for corporate America and special interest groups with deep pockets. The congress recently passed a foreign aid package for the Ukraine. worth Billions of tax payer dollars, but failed helping these poor families in need.

    • brunsk42

      What no blame on democrats for the lack of an economy !!!

    • darthgidget

      how long to you think taxpayers should carry the unemployed. These people are employable and should be able to find work- but many want the same large salary or aren’t willing to do something different. Sorry, but 2 years on unemployment is a bit too much.

  • brunsk42

    Glad to see there focusing on the important issues plauging this country..

  • Dom Perinyong

    In this video we find a little more background on liberal domestic terrorist Floyd Corkins: http://youtu.be/WOBMLahUszQ?t=29s

  • Haymitch Abernathy

    Despite collectivism’s repeated failures, collectivists stubbornly maintain that centralized government planning must be used to control people in the name of improving “society”.

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