Common Cause, Allies, Urge Moratorium on Privately-Funded Trips by Lawmakers

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  • Scott Swenson, Dale Eisman
Trips Approach Level of "The Jack Abramoff Travel Junket Era"

House Speaker Paul Ryan should suspend privately-funded foreign travel by House members and staff and launch a formal review of the rules governing it, Common Cause and other advocacy organizations said today.

In a letter to the newly-installed Speaker, the groups said private trips “are not being appropriately scrutinized” by the House Ethics Committee and warned that the foreign governments and corporate interests sponsoring them may be gaining inappropriate access to lawmakers and staffers.

The groups called on Ryan to create a bipartisan task force, including the chairs and ranking members of the House Ethics and House Administration Committees and the two co-chairs of the Office of Congressional Ethics, the House’s independent ethics watchdog agency, to study the problem.

“The amount of privately-sponsored travel, once slashed by the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA) to one-third its previous levels, is again rising to near the level of the Jack Abramoff travel junket era,” the groups asserted.

The letter, signed by the Campaign Legal Center, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, Prof. James Thurber, the Project on Government Oversight and Public Citizen, cited a spate of recent media reports concerning questionable, privately-financed trips by lawmakers.

“The Office of Congressional Ethics recently issued a report laying out how the sources of funds and sponsorship of Members’ and staff travel to Azerbaijan were purposefully obfuscated and that obvious red flags of the deception, such as multiple groups claiming sole responsibility for sponsoring the trip and none of these groups had sufficient funds to pay for the trip, were ignored by the House Committee on Ethics,” the letter added.

Ryan’s task force should consider a possible rewrite of the current rules governing privately-financed travel and whether the House should use public funds for all official travel, the groups said. They also urged a review of House Ethics Committee procedures for investigating whether shell companies are providing resources to the purported sponsors of overseas trips.