- Associated Press - Monday, June 15, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia did not disclose that a nonprofit with close ties to a lobbying firm paid for a three-day stay at a seaside luxury resort in southern Spain until The Associated Press asked about the omission on his personal disclosure form.

Kaine helped organize and attended a conference in Malaga, Spain, in September hosted by the U.S.-Spain Council. The regular conferences are designed to strengthen relations between the two countries. The conference last year took place at a five-star resort and spa and featured a dinner with Spanish King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia at an auto museum.

According to Kaine’s staff, the nonprofit spent $798 for three nights and between $600 to $800 for meals. Kaine was accompanied by his wife, Anne Holton, the Virginia Secretary of Education.

Transportation costs were handled by taxpayers, who paid for a Kaine-led congressional delegation to northern Africa and Spain just prior to the conference.

Kaine did not report that his stay at the conference was paid for by the U.S.-Spain Council on his personal financial form filed last month. He recently filed an amended form listing the trip after he was questioned by the AP. Kaine said the omission was an unintentional oversight that slipped past careful vetting by himself and his staff.

“I really am mad at myself and my team,” Kaine said. “I owe you guys a grudging ‘thank you’ for pointing it out.”

Intentionally filing inaccurate disclosure forms is illegal, but there is no penalty for accidental mistakes and lawmakers frequently file amended updates.

Kaine said the Senate Select Committee on Ethics advised his staff that the U.S.-Spain Council should cover his costs associated with the conference because Kaine is the nonprofit’s honorary chairman.

Several members of the U.S. House who attended the north Africa and the U.S.-Spain Council had their costs covered for both parts of the trip by the federal government, according to Kaine’s staff.

The council is closely tied to a lobbying firm, D&P Creative Strategies, which represents clients like Comcast and Microsoft. The council is a nonprofit and does not have to disclose its donors, but it lists several “members” on its website, including Coca-Cola, Boeing and the lobbying firms Greenberg Traurig and Hogan Lovells.

Also at the conference attended by Kaine were federal government officials from various agencies; lobbyists; a vice president from energy giant Dominion Resources Inc.; and the CEOs of the National Association of Manufacturers and defense contractor General Dynamics, according to a list provided by D&P.

After travel scandals involving former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Congress enacted strict rules in 2007 prohibiting lobbyist for directly paying for and organizing Senate travel.

But Congress has effectively gutted those rules by exempting nonprofits with close ties to lobbying firms, said Craig Holman, who lobbies on ethics and campaign finance for the watchdog group Public Citizen.

Kaine said his stay consisted almost entirely of attending panels and other business. He praised the work of the U.S.-Spain Council for strengthening ties between the two countries and said the lobbyists and business officials attending were there to build relationships, not gain influence.

But Holman disagreed.

“The business relationship they want to develop is with Senator Kaine,” Holman said. “That’s why they are paying for these trips.”

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