What is the point of prohibiting members of Congress from accepting personal gifts worth more than $50 if the the House Ethics Committee simply waives the rule?
Freshman Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) has disclosed that she accepted substantial gifts from two donors to her political campaigns. Her office claims that the Ethics Committee waived the rule. The first was from a billionaire hedge fund operator named Lee Ainslie in the form of a private jet flight from New York to Boston. It was purported to be worth $3,300. A commercial flight would have cost about $300. According to the New York Post, which first reported the story, Ainslie and his wife have donated more than $80,000 to Rice’s various political campaigns.
The second was a gift of a ticket worth $2,500 to a gala opening of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston. The donor was a lawyer named Thomas Lane, who also has donated more than $80,000 to Rice’s campaigns. From the Post:
A Virginia-based government watchdog group said the action was unseemly.
“The pricey gifts were allowed because the Ethics Committee simply waived the rule. Congress should not wonder why the public thinks its ethics are a joke,” said Ken Boehm, chair of the National Legal and Policy Center.
The rule does have an exemption for family and personal friends. It is not meant to exempt major donors like Ainslie and Lane, who clearly have sought influence with Rice in the past. The Ethics Committee has not confirmed that it actually allowed the waiver, but if it did, it was clearly a misapplication of the exemption.
Rep. Rice should do the right thing and reimburse the donors for the jet ride and ticket.