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House members belatedly disclose outside trips

Scrutiny of DeLay prompts research

WASHINGTON -- Scrutiny of majority leader Tom DeLay's travel has led to the belated disclosure of at least 198 previously unreported special interest trips by House members and their aides, including eight years of travel by the second-ranking Democrat, an Associated Press review has found.

At least 43 House members and dozens of aides had failed to meet the one-month deadline in ethics rules for disclosing trips financed by organizations outside the US government.

The AP review of thousands of pages of records covered pre-2005 travel that was disclosed since early March. That's when news stories began scrutinizing DeLay's travel, prompting lawmakers to comb through their files to make sure they had disclosed their travel.

While most of the previously undisclosed trips occurred in 2004, some date back to the late 1990s. House minority whip Steny Hoyer recently disclosed 12 trips, the oldest dating back to 1997.

Stacey Bernards, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Democrat, said the office searched the files after the travel issue was raised initially by ''Republicans doing opposition research to deflect from their own ethical issues."

Hoyer's undisclosed trips were nearly doubled by Representative Ellen Tauscher, Democrat of California, with 21. Representative Luis Gutierrez, Democrat of Illinois, reported 20 past trips and Representative Elijah Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, reported 13.

Republican and Democratic House members were nearly equal rules violators in failing to disclose their personal trips within 30 days after the trip's completion. There were 23 GOP members, 19 Democrats, and one independent, all of them months or years late in their reporting to the House public records office.

Staff members for House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, disclosed 11 prior trips, while staff members for DeLay, Republican of Texas, had four. Representative John Linder of Georgia, a former chairman of the House Republican campaign organization, belatedly filed nine trips, as did Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California.

The volume of unreported trips surprised the former chairman of the House ethics committee, Representative Joel Hefley, Republican of Colorado.

''I didn't realize the extent of the problem," Hefley said. ''There is no particular sanction [for tardiness] if you come back and file. They get lax. They don't think about it.

''People will be more aware now. The Ethics Committee will be more aware that it's a problem."

A spokesman for Gutierrez said the seven-term lawmaker did not know of his obligation to file the required travel disclosure reports.

Cummings spokeswoman Trudy Perkins said the original reports were sent to the House's public records office on time throughout 2004, using an internal mail system. They never made it to the public files.

''It was our understanding they were on file. It was odd, certainly," Perkins said.

Hayley Rumback, press secretary for Tauscher, said: ''A recent review of our travel records showed that while all travel was properly disclosed on annual financial disclosure statements, some additional travel disclosure forms were not filed. We have corrected this oversight."

The travel in question is not for official government trips known as CODELS, shorthand for Congressional Delegations.

The special interest trips are usually financed by corporations, trade groups, think tanks, universities, and others. They often pay for first-class commercial seats or provide corporate jets for lawmakers.

Many trips combine speeches, seminars, and fact-finding tours with golf, sightseeing, shopping, and accommodations at first-class hotels -- often in foreign countries.

''This sudden rush to file reports on previously undisclosed trips is certainly filling many pages of congressional passports," said Kent Cooper, head of the PoliticalMoneyLine Internet site, which tracks political donations and travel.

Some lawmakers and staff members wrote apologetic letters to the House Ethics Committee.

Representative John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, said he discovered ''my staff had failed to submit a travel disclosure" for a trip to Scotland in August 2004, an error made ''during a staff transition."

Elizabeth Greer, an aide to Representative F. Allen Boyd Jr., Democrat of Florida, took responsibility for not filing her documents after a trip to Kenya in December. She said she completed the form soon after the trip, but ''found it still buried on my desk recently. It simply slipped off my radar screen and found its way to the bottom of a pile."

One late filer, Republican Representative Melissa Hart of Pennsylvania, is a member of the Ethics Committee who could make judgments on DeLay's travel.

DeLay has asked the committee to review his travel, following allegations that a lobbyist paid for some of his trips despite a ban on such payments.

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