As if its approval ratings weren’t low enough already, Congress recently found another way to make voters wonder whose interests lawmakers are serving when they go to Washington. National Journal reported that the bipartisan House Ethics Committee has dropped a requirement that lawmakers include free travel and accommodations they receive on their annual financial disclosure forms.
The move, by one of the few House Committees jointly controlled by Republicans and Democrats, was billed as a way to eliminate a burdensome and duplicative requirement and to reduce paperwork. The effect of the move, however, will be to make it harder for voters to get a full sense of who may be trying to buy access to members of the House.
Good government groups were aghast at the decision.
"Removing the travel disclosure requirement from the annual disclosure form is a blatant attempt to avoid accountability,” Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said in a statement.
“The only Americans who would possibly be in favor of this change are members of Congress. It seems some lawmakers are eager to enjoy privately funded lavish trips without facing pesky questions from watchdog groups and constituents. The idea that this is a change for efficiency's sake is ludicrous.”
The annual reports are often the first stop for reporters and other individuals watching for lawmakers’ conflicts of interests. The travel data will still have to be reported to the Clerk of the House, but removing it from the financial disclosure form – where it has appeared for more than 40 years – means that document will no longer paint as complete a picture of House members’ real finances as it did in the past.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called for the reporting requirement to be reinstated. Congress, she said in a statement, “must always move in the direction of more disclosure, not less.”
It is currently unclear, though, whether lawmaker will act to reinstate the requirements.
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