Is it fair that special interest groups can legally wine, dine and pamper our nation’s legislators at luxury resorts? Let’s not kid ourselves – when politicians are treated to $10,000+ getaways, someone is expecting something in return. Although it should be outlawed outright, until recently, at least politicians had to disclose such trips on financial disclosure forms that the public could access. Now, however, this stipulation has been removed from the form, reports National Journal.
These financial documents – which won’t be available moving forward, apparently – reveal that members of Congress and their top staffers went on nearly 2,000 compensated trips in 2013 alone, with private interests picking up the over $6 million price tag.
It’s an open secret that lobbyists gain access to and court federal politicians through these trips that they “indirectly” sponsor. Rather than curbing this behavior altogether to prevent corruption, members of Congress decided to instead obligate themselves to admit to taking these vacations. For as long as Congress has been required to fill out financial disclosures, these trips were a necessary part of the form.
With little fanfare, the House Ethics Committee – an oxymoron if there ever was one – resolved to strip disclosing in this manner. Evidently, the change was so discreet that even some of the politicians didn’t realize that the change was made. In recent months, some members of Congress have continued submitting these details on their financial disclosure forms while others have stopped.
Why, when more of these ethically ambiguous trips are scheduled than ever before, did Congress believe this was a reasonable decision? Was it actually, as some suspect, an attempt to make it easier to cover up their own misgivings?
Though it would certainly be interesting to hear their justification for making this decision, thus far, Ethics Committee members have declined to comment on the change publically. One anonymous source, however, told Business Insider that the shift in rules is not a big deal since the public can still access this information through other means like the Pre-Travel and Post-Travel disclosure forms.
While the public can still access these documents, by separating them from the forms that deal with other such information (as if a “trip” is somehow less of a bribe-based handout), it ensures that these lobby-backed vacations are less likely to be subject to scrutiny. Although there is technically still an element of transparency, making it easier to conceal these activities is a definite step away from transparency overall.
Will more publicized news of this change prompt Congress to backtrack? Perhaps. In a newly released statement, Nancy Pelosi insisted that the rule be switched back to how it previously was. She wrote, “While the committee’s aim was 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.”
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