The Houston Chronicle yesterday published an account of a 2013 trip by 10 members of the House of Representatives to Azerbaijan that violates a House rule that prohibits the acceptance of overnight travel from corporations that employ lobbyists. The trip was indirectly paid for by companies doing business in Azerbaijan through nonprofit groups.
The fact set is similar to the 2008 case involving a trip to the Caribbean by then-Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY), exposed by NLPC, and investigated by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). OCE referred the matter to the House Ethics Committee, which “admonished” Rangel, prompting his resignation as House Ways and Means Chairman. The head of the nonprofit that sponsored the event was eventually convicted of lying to Congress.
According to the story by Will Tucker and Lise Olsen, 10 House members and 35 staffers enjoyed an all expenses paid trip to Baku, which cost for $270,000 for House members alone. The members included Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Steve Stockman (R-TX), Ted Poe (R-TX), Ruben Hinojosa (D-NM) and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM).
The trip was ostensibly paid for by five “obscure” nonprofit groups that received corporate donations to sponsor the trip including BP and ConocoPhillips. From the article:
Lawmakers who went to Baku and nonprofits alike should have disclosed any corporate conference sponsorships, said Ken Boehm, an expert in congressional ethics who reviewed the records at the Chronicle’s request.
By failing to do so, even after seeing event banners and websites listing sponsors, congressmen may have violated ethics rules, he said.
Leaders of nonprofits that organized trips to Baku may have violated federal law by failing to disclose corporate sponsors, said Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, a nonprofit that promotes ethics in government.
“Once the corporate sponsors admit their paid involvement, it’s game over for whoever signed the House pre-trip forms stating falsely that there was no such sponsorship,” he said.
Photo: Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY)