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Members fail to go public about their privately-funded travel

St. Thomas, U.S.V.I., is a beautiful Caribbean island adjacent to Puerto Rico. Its white beaches and cool tropical breezes are magnets for tourists, including Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY). But unlike most visitors, Rangel had the cost of his airfare and accommodations covered by the New York Carib News when he visited St. Thomas in November 2005. The trip was officially intended to allow Rangel to attend talks about U.S.-Caribbean business issues. Rangel’s acceptance of the trip was not illegal, but he failed to report the trip within the required 30-day-period.

Apparently, such tardy reporting is a problem for quite a few in Congress. In 2005, 28 Republicans and 25 Democrats failed to properly report privately funded trips, according to PoliticalMoneyLine.

Are these Members hiding something or are they just being lazy? Either way, the days of laissez faire travel enforcement may be drawing to a close. The reform proposal that Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) plans to introduce in January (summary.pdf) would ban lobbyists from privately funded trips and require the disclosure of privately funded trips’ itineraries, purposes and passenger lists. The poor compliance with the current travel rules presents just one more point in favor of establishing an independent Office of Public Integrity, for which Public Citizen has long advocated. Pelosi has expressed sympathy for the idea, but is more likely to study the issue than press for the new agency at once.

You can tell her yourself why the choice is a no-brainer here.