While You Weren’t Looking, Congress Changed the Disclosure Rules On Travel. To Their Benefit.
By Michael Hausam 2 days ago
A member of Congress used to have to specifically report the details if they traveled on someone else’s dime. As of last week, that rule was lifted with no public announcement. National Journal reports:
The move, made behind closed doors and without a public announcement by the House Ethics Committee, reverses more than three decades of precedent. Gifts of free travel to lawmakers have appeared on the yearly financial form dating back its creation in the late 1970s, after the Watergate scandal. National Journal uncovered the deleted disclosure requirement when analyzing the most recent batch of yearly filings.
For a group of officials that considers an adjustment to their burrito order worthy of a press release and a television appearance, that this change was made literally behind closed doors tells us everything we need to know about it. Members of both parties reached across the aisle and kept their mouths shut about it.
These trips still must be reported to the Office of the Clerk and disclosed there, but the decades-old requirement for individual members to also disclose their particular activities on their annual financial forms is now gone.
The fundamental reasoning behind these rules is that they make clear the relationships between the politician and any private group paying for trips. Trips, by the way, which occurred more last year than in recent history.
The implication is that if the public is aware, for example, that Representative Vandelay is taken via Gulfstream G5 to the Four Seasons Bora Bora for a week of “seminars” and it’s all paid for by the largest latex company in the country, then Vandelay’s votes benefiting the company can be understood to have been bought and paid for.
As the federal leviathan grows ever-larger and is more intricately involved in every teensy-tiny area of American life, the financial incentive for lobbyist to influence legislation to their clients benefit grows as well. A subtle change in a trade agreement, import duty, or regulation can mean millions of dollars to a firm.
It’s far easier to write a check to a Washington insider to get the field tilted in one’s direction, than to actually compete in the marketplace. And how better to get a politician’s attention than to provide them (and their significant other) with a lavish vacation or trip? This change just means it’s that much harder for us to find out about it. That is not good and should be changed back immediately.
Better yet, it’s time for the Federal government to get out of the business of picking business winners and losers, so the incentives for such behavior are eliminated altogether. We’ll not be holding our breath on this one…