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House alters reporting of lawmakers' free trips

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 1, 2014 at 4:02 pm •  Published: July 1, 2014
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The House is no longer requiring lawmakers to report some free trips they take on the annual forms they file about their personal finances, drawing fire from advocates of more transparency in government.

Legislators will still have to report details about their travel on the House clerk's website, which is less commonly monitored by reporters, watchdog groups and others than the financial disclosure reports. That website information is publicly available and is far more specific than the single line of information that — until now — they have provided on their financial disclosure forms.

The House clerk's website asks several pages of questions about who is sponsoring the trip, the itinerary and costs for lodging, transportation and other expenses. The one line on lawmakers' financial disclosure forms requires the sponsor's identity, the itinerary and whether lodging and other expenses were provided, but no cost information.

Ethics committee staff director Tom Rust said the travel information lawmakers must file online must be submitted within 15 days of travel - unlike the annual forms, which cover trips taken the previous year.

In a written statement, Rust said the bipartisan panel's staff recommended the changes to the financial disclosure forms and added: "The committee is committed to effective and efficient public disclosure and will continue to look for opportunities to improve" its reporting.

The change was not publicly announced but was described in an instruction book for lawmakers on how to fill out the forms. The elimination of the requirement was first reported by the National Journal.

The change was criticized by watchdog groups.

"Removing the travel disclosure requirement from the annual disclosure form is a blatant attempt to avoid accountability," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a non-profit that monitors actions by lawmakers. She called assertions that the move was for efficiency "ludicrous."

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