Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Scrutiny of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s travel has led to the belated disclosure of at least 198 previously unreported special-interest trips by House members and their aides, including eight years of travel by the second-ranking Democrat, an Associated Press review found.

At least 43 House members and dozens of aides had failed to meet the one-month deadline in ethics rules for disclosing trips financed by organizations outside the U.S. government.

These trips were not official government trips known as “codels,” or trips by congressional delegations. The unofficial travel usually is financed by corporations, trade groups, think tanks, universities and others. They often pay for first-class seats on commercial flights or provide corporate jets for lawmakers.

Many trips combine speeches, seminars and fact-finding tours with golf, sightseeing, shopping and accommodations at first-class hotels.

The review of thousands of pages of records covered pre-2005 travel that was disclosed since early March. While most of the previously undisclosed trips occurred in 2004, some date back to the late 1990s. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, recently disclosed 12 trips, the oldest dating back to 1997.

Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, California Democrat, disclosed 21 trips. Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, reported 20 past trips, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, reported 13.

Republican and Democratic House members violated the rules nearly equally by failing to disclose their personal trips within 30 days after the trip’s completion. There were 23 Republicans, 19 Democrats and one independent, who were months or years late in their reporting to the House public records office.

Staff members for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, disclosed 11 prior trips, while staff members for Mr. DeLay disclosed four. Rep. John Linder of Georgia, a former chairman of the House Republican campaign organization, belatedly filed nine trips, as did Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat.

The volume of unreported trips surprised the former chairman of the House ethics committee, Rep. Joel Hefley, Colorado Republican.

“I didn’t realize the extent of the problem,” Mr. Hefley said. “There is no particular sanction [for tardiness] if you come back and file. They get lax. They don’t think about it.”

A spokesman for Mr. Gutierrez said the seven-term lawmaker did not know of his obligation to file the required travel disclosure reports.

“In late April, the congressman approached our staff to ask why in the news he was reading all this information about trips,” spokesman Scott Frotman said.

Cummings spokeswoman Trudy Perkins said the original reports were sent to the House’s public records office on time throughout 2004, using an internal mail system. They never made it to the public files.

“It was our understanding they were on file. It was odd, certainly,” Miss Perkins said.

Hayley Rumback, press secretary for Mrs. Tauscher, said: “A recent review of our travel records showed that while all travel was properly disclosed on annual financial disclosure statements, some additional travel disclosure forms were not filed.”

Some lawmakers and staff members wrote apologetic letters to the House ethics committee.

Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said he discovered “my staff had failed to submit a travel disclosure” for a trip to Scotland in August 2004.

Elizabeth Greer, an aide to Rep. Allen Boyd, Florida Democrat, took responsibility for not filing her documents after a trip to Kenya in December 2004. She said she completed the form soon after the trip, but “found it still buried on my desk recently.”

One late filer, Republican Rep. Melissa A. Hart of Pennsylvania, is a member of the ethics committee who could make judgments on Mr. DeLay’s travel.

Mr. DeLay has asked the committee to review his travel, after accusations arose that a lobbyist paid for some of his trips despite a ban on such payments.

“Someone had done a story and incorrectly listed my travel,” Mrs. Hart said, explaining what led her to check her records. She found that a trip she made to Hungary and Germany in November was not reported.

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