Congress dealt a short-lived blow to government transparency and accountability when a House of Representatives committee quietly ended the requirement to report privately sponsored travel.
The decision, which the National Journal reported Monday, was done behind closed doors and without public announcement by the House Ethics Committee. It ended more than three decades of required reporting on such travel by members of Congress.
Gifts of free travel to lawmakers have appeared on yearly financial disclosure forms since the late 1970s after the Watergate scandal, the National Journal reported.
The committee has 10 members, five each from the Republican and Democratic parties. Ethics Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said Thursday that the committee will reverse its decision and reinstate the disclosure requirement. The decision came amid criticism about the closed-door action.
Our congressman, Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, criticized the decision to end the reporting requirement once the move was made public this week.
“I believe transparency and disclosure are healthy in our government and in our elections,” he told the Daily Republic this week. “The public has the right to know who is contributing to congressional travel and who is contributing to campaigns.”
Garamendi is correct. He’s also the reigning king of privately funded travel in Congress. He racked up about $70,000 in such travel in 2013, with trips to Sudan in February, Turkey in April and Ethiopia in August. Garamendi began 2014 with a five-day trip in February to Cartegna, Colombia.
The decision by the Ethics Committee to remove an accounting of private-pay congressional travel from annual financial disclosure forms was a bad one. The decision to reinstate the disclosure requirement is a good one, even though it came as it did as a result of public criticism.
This situation illustrates the need to keep a wary eye on the actions of those we elect to represent us. In this case, that wary eye was the National Journal, which first reported about the Ethics Committee’s closed-door decision, and news organizations like the Daily Republic that brought the story home to local residents.
We recall the words of the late Sen. Robert Byrd: “It is the duty of each citizen to be vigilant, to protect liberty, to speak out, left and right, and disagree, lest we be trampled underfoot by misguided zealotry and extreme partisanship.”