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Industries Paid for Top Regulators' Travel
Coronado said Brown, the Clinton-era agency chairman, also spoke to the group. But agency records of her non-CPSC-financed travel do not list that trip, suggesting that it was not paid for by the lawyers group. Gilbert, the former CPSC executive director, called DRI's contribution toward Stratton's hotel bill in Spain "amazing."
Stratton said the group "wanted to know where the CPSC was going on various product issues, and they wanted to know what the companies [the lawyers represented] could expect, what the government was thinking in regard to their issues." He said lawyers who sue companies over product-related injuries never invited him to speak.
Stratton gave a general defense of his more than 25 trips, which included a trip to China that the Toy Industry Association paid $8,000 to help finance. "Everybody wants to see the chairman," he said. The fireworks group that paid for a separate China trip did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment about its contacts with the CPSC.
Some say the commission's approach to gift travel points to a Bush administration philosophy that favors engaging corporations in policymaking that affects them. "This administration apparently has taken the position that speaking and appearing before the regulated community, even where there are enforcement matters pending, does not create the appearance of a conflict," said Kenneth Gross, an ethics lawyer at Skadden, Arps.
"These are difficult and subjective lines to be drawn," he said. "Prior administrations have drawn that line in a different place."
Nord was a corporate lawyer at Eastman Kodak before her appointment. Stratton led Lawyers for Bush in his home state of New Mexico during the president's 2000 campaign and co-founded the Rio Grande Foundation, which advocates limited government and supports free-market economic principles.
The CPSC did not immediately agree to a request to review copies of internal documents related to several trips or its internal gift-travel regulations. But the records document a pattern of travel that varies from the stated habits of top officials at four other regulatory agencies.
The Securities and Exchange Commission, for example, "does not accept host-paid travel reimbursements or in-kind payments from any organization regulated by the agency," said spokesman John Heine. Food and Drug Administration rules likewise do not permit outside travel payments from regulated companies, organizations "engaged in any lobbying activities" or those that receive "more than ten percent of their income from a corporate source," among other restrictions.
The Federal Communications Commission bans travel paid for by regulated companies or others with business before the agency, for officials from division heads upward, according to spokesman Clyde Ensslin.
F. Gary Davis, who helped establish the Office of Government Ethics in 1978 and served as its general counsel and deputy director until 2000, said the government-wide regulations were imposed "to ensure that there is no appearance of impropriety when you're dealing with a prohibited source." He said that it is conceivable that some of the CPSC's industry-sponsored trips were justified but that in those cases, the agency should be prepared to make its decision-making records available.