Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Congressional Travel Rules: How Much Has Changed?

The House and Senate have adopted their internal ethics rules (which could still be changed, depending on how they resolve the ethics reform bill still under consideration). It seems that there's a lot of wiggle room to allow Members and staff to accept the same benefits from lobbyists as in the past:

The House and Senate have approved internal rules banning most lobbyist-funded travel for members and their staffs. But lobbyists can still underwrite one-day trips for lawmakers to visit a site, give a speech, attend a forum or sit on a panel.

And that lobbyist-funded travel has been expanded to allow a second night’s stay in some cases, according to new guidelines the House ethics committee released last night...

The new guidelines also allow members and staffers to accept up to business-class transportation on commercial airlines or trains for committee-approved travel. But there are special allowances for more expensive transportation if the committee first determines it’s reasonable...

Lawmakers and aides also can travel first-class, by charter or in private aircraft if “genuine security circumstances” require it or if the scheduled flight time exceeds 14 hours.

In addition, the new guidelines allow members and staffers to attend events such as annual meetings of business or trade associations and stay in the same lodgings as long as they are “commensurate” with the quality, or location of other event attendees, although they do not address how many attendees must have the same quality of lodgings. In essence, the guidelines leave open the possibility that a lawmaker or aide could argue that his accommodations are “commensurate” with the lodgings of the top officers of a trade or business group even though most members of the group have more modest accommodations.

While at annual meetings, rules governing meals at “widely attended” events apply. Members and aides can accept meals related to the event if they are “similar” to those provided to or purchased by other event attendees...

The new rules are here.

As I read them, they would clearly allow Representatives, Senators, and staff to continue to accept travel to and lodging at desirable locations inside and outside the US. So for example, if a large trade association holds a regular annual meeting at the Homestead or the Breakers - popular destinations for such events - and invites Members or staff to attend, I see no reason they could not.

And the rules even allow them to stay as many as two nights. So you could fly down on Sunday morning, stay Sunday night, speak on Monday - perhaps stay on Monday night - and leave Tuesday. Or, you could pick up one night at your own expense and make it a four day stay, with only the requirement that you participate in one or two panels.

It depends on how the rules are applied, but they don't require a change in how business is done.

1 comment:

Vacations said...
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