Pelosi: House Ethics Committee must restore travel disclosure requirement

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds her weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitors Center at the U.S. Capitol December 13, 2012. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) says the new disclosure rule "must be reversed." (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Updated at 2:37 p.m.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday that the House Ethics Committee must restore the disclosure rule that required members of Congress to report privately-funded travel -- a requirement that the National Journal reported Tuesday had been quietly removed.

“The new rule presented by the Ethics Committee for disclosure of travel must be reversed.  While the committee’s aim was to simplify the disclosure process, Congress must always move in the direction of more disclosure, not less," Pelosi said in a statement. "If the Ethics Committee does not act, then we will call upon the Speaker to allow a vote on legislation to reverse this decision.  In the meantime, Members are encouraged to disclose such trips to both the Clerk and in their annual disclosures.”

According to the National Journal report, the House Ethics Committee got rid of the requirement that members of Congress and their staffs report gifts of free travel.

In his report Tuesday, National Journal reporter Shane Goldmacher wrote:

The move, made behind closed doors and without a public announcement by the House Ethics Committee, reverses more than three decades of precedent. Gifts of free travel to lawmakers have appeared on the yearly financial form dating back its creation in the late 1970s, after the Watergate scandal. National Journal uncovered the deleted disclosure requirement when analyzing the most recent batch of yearly filings.

"This is such an obvious effort to avoid accountability," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "There's no legitimate reason. There's no good reason for it."

In a statement issued on Tuesday afternoon, the House Ethics Committee's top staffer insisted that the change in reporting did not constituted any significant alteration to transparency requirements.
The Ethics Committee continues to enforce the requirement that all House Members and staff who wish to accept privately sponsored travel must continue to receive prior approval from the Ethics Committee and to file detailed paperwork about any such trip within 15 days.  Neither of those requirements has been changed or diluted in any way," said Tom Rust, the House Ethics Committee's staff director and chief counsel, in a statement. " All of the detailed post-travel reports filed by all House Members and staff – not just those of staff who file financial disclosure reports – are publicly available in a searchable online database on the Clerk’s web site, on the same page where the public can look up Members’ financial disclosure reports, at clerk.house.gov.  As the House developed the new online financial disclosure system, the Committee’s nonpartisan staff recommended a number of changes to the financial disclosure forms, including eliminating the need to report less information about private travel than the traveler had already publicly disclosed the year before."
Wesley Lowery covers Capitol Hill for The Fix and Post Politics.
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