House Ethics Committee Adopts New Travel Rules
New regulations for lawmakers accepting privately sponsored trips aim to strike a balance between the benefits of face-to-face meetings and the need for transparency.
The House Ethics Committee announced late last month new regulations for members who accept privately sponsored travel, including guidance on how various private-sector entities can provide financial or logistical support for congressional trips to attend tradeshows or conferences.
In a joint statement, House Ethics Committee Chairman Jo Bonner (R-AL) and ranking member Linda Sanchez (D-CA) said the committee took into account “both the significant benefit the public receives when their representatives and their representatives’ staff receive hands-on education and experience, as well as the mandate that outside groups be appropriately limited in what gifts and support they are allowed to provide to members of Congress and congressional staff.”
With both of those interests in mind, the committee changed the deadline for submitting travel approval requests from 14 days before travel to 30 days, giving committee staff more time to review all travel requests. The committee is also adding to the disclosure requirements new certification forms to increase transparency on privately funded trips.
The committee also said it gave “significant consideration” to whether 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations should be distinguished by their relationship to other groups, including groups that retain lobbyists. But the committee said it could not identify a fair way to distinguish between different nonprofits that have legitimate interests in providing fact-finding opportunities to members of Congress and their staff.
Bonner and Sanchez said the working group that studied existing ethics rules and recommended changes “generally acknowledged that legitimate privately sponsored travel is beneficial for members of Congress because it can provide multiple perspectives, information, direct contact, and outside-the-Beltway conversations regarding the many important topics they address on a regular basis.”
The new travel regulations will become effective for all trips taking place on or after April 1, 2013. The new certification forms for travel requests will be available on the Ethics Committee website on or before February 15, 2013.
Read more about the new travel regulations here.