Tuesday, June 7, 2005

More than 200 lawmakers have rushed to correct travel-disclosure statements in recent months as reporters on Capitol Hill discover more discrepancies in the wake of questions about travel by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

?You’re dealing with hundreds,? said Kent Cooper, co-founder of PoliticalMoneyLine, a Web site that compiles the forms after they’re filed with the clerk’s office and makes it available at www.fecinfo.com. ?There’s a ton more for staffers.?

Mr. Cooper said his figure covered parts of April and May, a period during which the scrutiny of gift travel — which is funded by corporations and outside interest groups — heightened on the heels of accusations that Mr. DeLay accepted travel from a registered lobbyist, which is barred under House ethics rules.

The widespread scrutiny — aided by opposition researchers from both parties — has prompted amended reports from top leaders in both parties and even from members of the ethics panel. The most intense scrutiny has focused on the most frequent travelers.

Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., a Tennessee Democrat who is running for the Senate, holds first place as Congress’ most prolific traveler since 2000. While his travel reports have been trouble-free in recent years, that has not always been the case.

From 1998 to 2003, he took 61 privately funded trips. During that period, he failed to file a single travel-disclosure form with the House clerk, as required by the chamber’s ethics rules.

While he listed the trips on his financial-disclosure forms at the end of each year, Mr. Ford did not make public the purpose or value of the trips paid for by companies and outside groups, since the financial-disclosure form — unlike the travel form — does not require such information.

When Mr. Ford learned he had failed to file the required travel forms, spokesman Zac Wright said, Mr. Ford rushed to fill out and file dozens of travel-disclosure forms — some as many as five years late — on Aug. 19, 2003.

“It was a simple oversight,” Mr. Wright said. “It was cleared up [almost] two years ago proactively by the congressman. It was a minor thing.”

The lapse by Mr. Ford highlights the pitfalls members of Congress say are associated with gift travel and the rules that govern it.

In recent months, dozens of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been snared in controversies over improperly funded trips, insufficiently disclosed details and simple clerical oversights. House ethics rules permit travel by members to be paid for by companies and outside special-interest groups, as long as the travel is reported to the clerk.

Scrutiny has focused mostly on Mr. DeLay, who has accepted 14 trips during the past five years totaling $94,568, according to PoliticalMoneyLine.

In terms of travel at the expense of others, Mr. DeLay is far from top of the heap, ranking 30th in value of trips taken, according to PoliticalMoneyLine. In first place is Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, who has racked up $176,718 in travel paid for by corporations or outside groups during the past five years. Mr. Ford ranks 78th in terms of travel costs, having racked up $60,545 in gift travel.

Mr. DeLay is among 11 representatives tied at 120th place with 14 trips each since 2000. At the top of that list is Mr. Ford, with 62 trips since 2000.

Mr. DeLay has invited the House ethics committee to investigate his travel and said the rules governing gift travel are confusing and should be cleared up by the House ethics committee.

One of the late filers was Rep. Melissa A. Hart, Pennsylvania Republican and member of the ethics committee. She recently discovered that she had failed to report a trip she made in November to Hungary and Germany, a problem she corrected.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Ohio Democrat and member of the ethics panel, took a 2001 trip to Puerto Rico but filed slightly different travel-disclosure forms. Mrs. Pelosi reported that an outside advocacy group paid for the trip, while Mrs. Jones reported that a Washington lobbying firm had paid for the trip.

When the discrepancy was raised, Mrs. Jones said it was a clerical error and that the firm was listed only because the lobbyist had arranged the trip, but did not pay for it.

According to the Associated Press, the recent late filers have included House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, who recently disclosed 12 trips dating back to 1997. Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, California Democrat, filed late for 21 trips, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, reported 20 past trips, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, reported 13.

Rep. John Linder, Georgia Republican, belatedly filed for nine trips, as did Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat.

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