The chairman of the House ethics committee apparently did not properly file a required report about a $3,170 trip to Canada last year. His staff said it must have been lost in the mail.
Perhaps the report, due nine months ago, will turn up. But this is a potentially embarrassing juncture for the chairman, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), to suffer a paperwork blunder.
Intense scrutiny of the travel of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) has impelled lawmakers from both parties to file or amend reports on more than 200 trips, some from years ago. The Hastings committee, currently stalled by a partisan standoff, eventually will have to decide whether any of that tardiness should be punished.
The errant report came to light when PoliticalMoneyLine, a Web site specializing in money and politics, compared the trips summarized on lawmakers' annual financial disclosures -- released earlier this month -- with those on the more detailed disclosure forms that are supposed to be filed within 30 days of a trip.
Hastings listed a trip from July 30 to Aug. 1, 2004, to Stuart Island, B.C., that was paid for by Washington Group International, an Idaho-based engineering and construction company that provides nuclear-cleanup services.
PoliticalMoneyLine did not find a matching travel report that would have spelled out the details of the trip.
When a reporter asked Hastings's office about the discrepancy yesterday, an aide to the lawmaker went to the reading room where the disclosure forms are filed and did not find it.
His office supplied its file copy of the form, which showed that he was accompanied by his wife, Claire Hastings; that the transportation was $675 for each of them; and that their expenses for meals and lodging totaled $1,820. Hastings, longtime chairman of the House's Nuclear Cleanup Caucus, went on the trip to participate in an energy symposium, the form said.
Ed Cassidy, Hastings's chief of staff, said that the form -- dated Aug. 12, 2004 -- was probably mailed from the lawmaker's district office because he would have been home for the summer, and that it must have been lost in transit.
"Our copies were in our files, and we never gave it another thought," Cassidy said.
Hastings will refile the document Monday, Cassidy said.
Democratic aides said it is unusual to mail such a form because, typically, an aide takes it to the House clerk's office and gets a copy with a time stamp to show when it was filed.
Hastings was named chairman of the ethics committee in February, replacing Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), who fell out of favor with GOP leaders.
To avert an ethics docket stuffed with hundreds of cases, Republican leaders have contemplated declaring what amounts to an amnesty for past paperwork errors, then restating the rules and enforcing them rigorously. Substantive violations, such as accepting a trip from a registered lobbyist, would not be excused, according to aides.
Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (W.Va.), the ethics committee's ranking Democrat, said in a letter delivered to House offices on Wednesday that the committee is not functioning because Hastings "has been insisting on implementing an entirely unprecedented proposal on Committee staffing" that disregards rules calling for a nonpartisan staff. Hastings wants to make Cassidy, his 10-year chief of staff, co-director of the committee staff.
Rep. Jack Kingston (Ga.), vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, replied yesterday with a letter to GOP House members saying that he hopes that the Democratic leadership "quits obstructing this process."