The House Ethics Committee quietly, almost secretly, reversed a rule that requires members of Congress to disclose gifts of free travel they receive from lobbyists. The rule, which is decades old, made it so these disclosures were on the Ethics Committee’s annual financial reports, going all the way back to the 1970s.
The National Journal reports that these trips still have to be reported to the House Office of the Clerk, but now they won’t be where various groups, including the press and watchdog groups, can easily see them.
The National Journal also said that the only notice that anybody received of this rule change was the 2014 instructions booklet on financial disclosures that all the lawmakers received. There was no announcement or hint that the Ethics Committee was considering such a change at all.
This rule has existed since Congressional ethics reforms took place following Watergate. Politicus USA says that the Ethics Committee is different than other committees in that it has an equal number of Republicans and Democrats on it, so at least one from each party had to approve the change.
However, nobody’s admitting to anything at this point, so who knows who’s actually responsible for this.
Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL), and chairman of the House Transparency Caucus, is concerned about the change. He said, ” Both the change to our financial disclosure forms and the fact it was done so quietly are extremely troubling for those of us who believe in transparency and accountability,” according to CNN.
Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also expressed concern about the rule change. She said:
“The new rule presented by the Ethics Committee for disclosure of travel must be reversed. While the committee’s aim was to simplify the disclosure process, Congress must always move in the direction of more disclosure, not less.”
CNN notes that the Ethics Committee may have been simply removing a duplicate reporting requirement. But she’s right. If they, or anybody, are going to change rules involved in transparency, it makes sense to head in the direction of more, not less. Less transparency gives too many politicians the temptation and the ability to hide what they’re really up to from the rest of us.
This is especially important now, when we trust Congress about as far as we can throw them. Instead, Republicans and Democrats appear to want to get more secretive about what they’re doing.