Thursday, April 21, 2005

House Republicans yesterday called on Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to provide documentation to prove that a Washington lobbyist firm did not pay for a trip she and other Democrats took to Puerto Rico in 2001.

“We feel that such lingering questions undermine the integrity of the institution and we hope [the questions] will be cleared up as soon as possible,” wrote Republican Reps. Patrick T. McHenry of North Carolina and Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia.

The Washington Times reported earlier this week that Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Ohio Democrat and member of the House ethics committee, listed a registered lobbyist as the trip’s sponsor. House rules prohibit registered lobbyists from paying for travel by members.

On travel disclosure forms filed with the House clerk, Mrs. Pelosi and others on the trip listed a group called Todo Puerto Rico con Vieques as its sponsor.

After the discrepancy was made public, Mrs. Jones amended her travel disclosure form to match those of Mrs. Pelosi and other travelers. A spokeswoman in Mrs. Jones’ office blamed the conflicting information on “human error” but declined to provide proof that the trip was paid for by Todo Puerto Rico con Vieques, rather than D.C. lobbyist Smith, Dawson & Andrews.

Mrs. Pelosi also refused to provide any such documentation, and testily dismissed questions yesterday about the matter.

“There’s no discrepancy in the records on my trip,” the California Democrat said. “So that’s all I can answer for.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Feeney, Florida Republican, yesterday became the latest to be ensnared in the escalating bipartisan hunt for ethical lapses in congressional travel.

Mr. Feeney and his wife traveled from Orlando to West Palm Beach, Fla., to deliver a speech in November 2003. According to records he filed with the House clerk, the $1,946 tab for the trip was picked up by Rotterman & Associates, a North Carolina-based lobbying firm.

Mr. Feeney amended his report this week, saying the California-based Center for the Study of Popular Culture had funded the trip.

The charges and countercharges about congressional travel come amid a prolonged standoff between Democrats and Republicans that has kept the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct from meeting this year.

The questions also come after months of claims against Majority Leader Tom DeLay, accused of accepting a trip paid for by a lobbyist. Mr DeLay and the nonprofit group he listed as the trip’s sponsor insist the lobbyist did not pay the bill.

Mrs. Pelosi has called for a full investigation into that matter, which is an inconsistency, say Mr. McHenry and Mr. Westmoreland.

“If you are serious that the mere allegation that a lobbyist paid for member travel warrants a full ethics investigation, it would seem that a member actually disclosing it as fact would more than merit it,” the Republicans wrote.

“We would hope that you would come forward with any and all documentation your office has proving that in fact the group, Todo Puerto Rico con Vieques, initiated and paid for your trip,” Mr. McHenry and Mr. Westmoreland added. “Ms. Jones’ disclosures that a lobbyist in fact paid for it, and her subsequent statement that the lobbying firm handled the logistics, has created an appearance that the true source of the funds may not actually be Todo Puerto Rico con Vieques.”

Jose Paralitici, who organized the group to oppose the U.S. Navy bombing range in Vieques, yesterday returned a telephone message left earlier in the week by The Times. Mr. Paralitici said he operates the group from his home and that the group paid for the 2001 trips.

Mr. Paralitici said he hadn’t spoken to anyone in Congress this week but that he was volunteering the information after coming across The Times story on the Internet. He said the money to pay the more than $8,000 in travel bills came from “a lot of donations.”

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