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Sly dodge: Congress stretches ethics rules for lobbyist-paid trip

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At least 32 lawmakers and congressional aides attended a four-day, lobbyist-paid technology conference in Las Vegas, despite ethics rules that normally limit such travel to one day.

The International Consumer Electronics Association is an annual gathering of industry heads, investors, policy wonks and even celebrities; this year's event in Las Vegas drew 3,250 exhibitors, Roll Call reports.

Nearly three dozen congressional members and aides attended the show as guests of the CEA, according to Roll Call. The CEA paid more than $44,000 for their travel, hotel and miscellaneous expenses, the report continued. Normally, this trip would be on the taboo list for House members, as ethics rules limit such trips to one day — and congressional members were even reminded of this policy late last year, Roll Call reports.

"We remind you that, because the trip sponsor employs a federal lobbyist, you may participate in officially-connected activity on one calendar day only. For purposes of this trip, officially-connected activity includes attending conference sessions and visiting the product exhibits on the 'Show Floor,' " according to the reminder letter sent in December from then-Ethics Committee Chairman Jo Bonner, and ranking member Linda Sanchez, according to Roll Call.

So how did the 32 skirt the restriction and extend their stay?

Ethics rules allow for a second night's stay in "exceptional circumstances," Roll call reports. And they also allow for members to extend trips at their own expense. So adding the two exemptions together — congressional members and aides were allowed to stay, in part at CEA expense, at the Las Vegas conference for three nights and four days, Roll Call finds.

Legislative offices that took advantage of the loopholes, according to Roll Call: Sen. Jerry Moran, from Kansas; Rep. Lee Terry from Nebraska; Rep. Zoe Lofgren from California; and Rep. Gerald Connolly, from Virginia.

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