Stephanie Tubbs Jones, an Ohio Democrat who sits on the House ethics committee, took a 2001 trip to Puerto Rico that was paid for by a registered lobbyist firm — an apparent violation of the chamber’s ethics rules — according to documents that she filed with the House clerk.
A spokeswoman for Mrs. Jones disputed those records yesterday, saying “human error” led a staffer to list the name of D.C. lobbyist firm Smith, Dawson & Andrews as having paid the $3,366 tab for Mrs. Jones and her husband to travel to the Puerto Rican island of Vieques in the Caribbean.
“Smith Dawson was put on the form in error,” Jones spokeswoman Nicole Williams said. “The invitation came from Todo Puerto Rico con Vieques. They hired Smith Dawson to handle logistics for the trip.”
Miss Williams declined to provide The Washington Times with any evidence to support her assertion and refused to have either the lobbying firm or the group she says actually paid for the trip provide any documentation to prove her claim.
In addition to the travel disclosure form, which was filed two weeks after Mrs. Jones’ return and bears her signature, the lobbyists also were listed as the trip’s sponsor in the financial disclosure forms she signed and filed at the end of the year.
In a brief telephone interview late yesterday, James P. Smith, a managing partner with Smith, Dawson & Andrews, denied that his firm paid for Mrs. Jones’ travel. He offered to place his hand on the Bible.
The irregularities mirror some of the ethics questions dogging House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican. Various investigations into casino lobbyist Jack Abramoff revealed that at least one of Mr. DeLay’s trips was paid for by Mr. Abramoff rather than the private entity listed by Mr. DeLay. Mr. DeLay says he was unaware of Mr. Abramoff’s connection.
House rules specifically bar “registered lobbyists” from paying for trips by members. Private groups, such as Todo Puerto Rico con Vieques (TPRV), which opposed the Navy’s bomb-testing site on Vieques, are allowed to fund trips.
Also on the Vieques trip with Mrs. Jones, who was on the ethics committee at the time, were Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and other House members. Mrs. Pelosi and the other legislators listed TPRV as the trip’s sponsor.
“The trip was entirely proper,” Pelosi spokeswoman Jennifer Crider said. “Todo Puerto Rico con Vieques paid for Leader Pelosi’s travel.”
Local press reports at the time described TPRV as an “anti-U.S. Navy” organization founded to oppose the Navy’s use of Vieques. The group is not officially listed as a registered lobbyist in House records.
Calls to the group were answered by an unrelated organization in San Juan named Ateneo Puertorriqueno, Puerto Rico’s “oldest cultural institution,” which sponsors art shows and celebrates Puerto Rico’s history. The telephone receptionist there said TPRV doesn’t have its own office or phone number and is permitted to conduct meetings in Ateneo Puertorriqueno’s office space.
Smith, Dawson & Andrews is a major D.C. lobbying firm and is registered with the House. It’s clients include the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration and several Puerto Rican city governments.
The total bill for Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Pelosi and Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, New York Democrat, to travel to Vieques was $8,311, according to House records.
But the total bill for members’ travel to Vieques that weekend could not be computed because itemized travel disclosure forms for Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas Democrat, and Delegate Donna M.C. Christensen, the Virgin Islands’ nonvoting member in Congress, were not filed in House clerk records.
Leon Buck, chief of staff for Mrs. Jackson-Lee, initially said he had no record of his boss going on the trip. Told about her appearance in Vieques press reports at the time, he then dismissed the story.
“This trip is four years old,” Mr. Buck said. “I’m not sure why this is even relevant.”
The House Standards of Official Conduct Committee has not convened this session because of partisan fights over rules changes. Democrats are mainly upset over a rule change pushed through by the Republican leadership. The new rule kills an ethics complaint rather then initiates an investigation if the panel doesn’t take it up in 45 days.