House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi helped secure $3 million last year for a nonprofit transportation-research organization whose president gave money to her political action committee as the group was paying for a European trip for one of her policy advisers.
Transportation adviser Lara Levison’s nine-day, $4,475 trip to Spain and Germany last April to learn about hydrogen-fuel cells for buses was primarily paid for by WestStart-CALSTART.
But just days before the trip, WestStart-CALSTART announced that Mrs. Pelosi had helped the nonprofit group secure $1 million from the Federal Transit Administration for a bus rapid-transit program. A month after the Levison trip, the group sent out a press release thanking her for a $2 million grant for a fuel-cell program.
According to campaign records, WestStart-CALSTART Chief Executive Officer John R. Boesel also gave $1,000 to one of Mrs. Pelosi’s political action committees in 2003 and $1,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Both Mr. Boesel and Mrs. Pelosi’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Crider, said there is no link between the staffer’s trip and the grants.
“This trip was completely within the House rules. The two projects were long-standing projects we’ve worked on,” Ms. Crider said.
Both she and Mr. Boesel said Republican staffers also were on the European trip.
Mr. Boesel said Mrs. Pelosi has supported his projects for more than a decade, adding that the programs have drawn support from both parties and that his political donations have gone to both parties.
But the trip is raising questions from some Republicans, who say the California Democrat and some ethics-watchdog groups are being hypocritical when they criticize House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on ethics charges.
“Given the actions of the minority leader vis-a-vis the majority leader and other Republicans, I’m having a little trouble finding where the outrage is coming from these groups that continue to pound on Republican members,” a senior Republican lawmaker said on the condition of anonymity.
The lawmaker said nothing distinguished Mrs. Pelosi’s actions from those of Mr. DeLay and other Republicans that she has criticized. He also said the questions about Mrs. Pelosi rise to the point of an ethics complaint.
“I think the minority leader ought to be subject to the same type of scrutiny as other members,” he said.
Campaign-watchdog groups said it doesn’t appear that Mrs. Pelosi or her staff member broke any rules, but said the timing looks bad.
“Anytime a member of their staff gets trips to Europe, it raises questions,” said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “Add to it the idea that the organization is thanking Pelosi, it just adds to it.”
Ken Boehm, chairman of the conservative National Legal and Policy Center, which has challenged Mrs. Pelosi’s campaign fundraising in the past, said the trip looks shady.