The House Ethics Committee voted yesterday to require every House member, officer and employee to keep records of all gifts, including dinner at the home of friends.
THe committee, acting on the ethics code proposed by the Obey Commission, voted 5 to 3 to remove the $35 exemption on reporting personal hospitality or gifts valued at $35 or less. At the same time, the committee voted to keep the proposed ban on House members' or employees' accepting gifts totaling $100 or more in value in a calendar year from a foreign national or anyone having a direct interest in legislation before Congress.
The change is expected to stir up opposition in the House to the gifts provision, which had not been controversial before.
In arguing for removing the exempting ethics committee member Albert Quie (R-Minn.) said members should not be able to take any gifts from lobbyists including 'dinner night after night.' Quie offered this amendment knocking out all the exemptions except the one for relatives.
Obey commission staffers said the exemptions were put in so that members could visit in people's homes without having to keep a record of it as well as by required to keep a record of every calendar or product sample that comes in unsolicited to a member's office. "The bookeeping will be unbelievable," a staff member said.
Commission chairman Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) said the change was "not anything earthshaking" but it does "create problems of workability."
He said he would try to get the exemption put back in either by the Ethics Committee or on the floor.
One of the reasons the gift provision ran into difficulties was that ethics committee Chairman John J. Flynt (D-Ga.) was clearly miffed at an order from the leadership to report out his portion of the Obey package in a hurry.
He said he had been told to report out the package in a single day and could not hold hearings on it. When an Ethics Committee member tried to ask on Obey Commission staffer present to clarify a point, Flynt insisted that would amount to holdins hearing and the staff member couldn't respond.
The Obey commission composed of both House members and outsiders, has examined, house ethics but can't pass legislation.So its seven-part Ethics must be divided up among several committees for passage before it can come to the floor. Other parts of the package still must be passed by the House Rules Committee. Obey admitted there was a rush because they were trying to bring the new code to the floor by Committee and House Administration March 2.