WASHINGTON – At least 43 House members and dozens of aides failed to report publicly travel financed by special interests until Majority Leader Tom DeLay's (search) trips were scrutinized, an Associated Press review shows.
Despite a rule requiring public disclosure within 30 days after a trip's conclusion, the AP found at least 198 recently filed travel reports that were as much as eight years late.
The review covered pre-2005 trips that were disclosed since early March, when news articles questioned whether a lobbyist paid for some of DeLay's travel. A House rule prohibits lawmakers from accepting travel expenses from lobbyists.
Most of the previously undisclosed trips occurred in 2004, but some dated back to the late 1990s. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (search), D-Md., recently disclosed 12 trips, the oldest dating back to 1997.
Stacey Bernards, a spokeswoman for Hoyer, 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 Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., with 21. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., reported 20 past trips and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. 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, D-Calif., disclosed 11 prior trips, while staff members for DeLay, R-Texas, had four. Rep. John Linder of Georgia, a former chairman of the House Republican campaign organization, belatedly filed nine trips, as did Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.
The volume of unreported trips surprised the former chairman of the House ethics committee, Rep. Joel Hefley (search), R-Colo.
"I didn't realize the extent of the problem," Hefley said in an interview. "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.
"In late April, the congressman approached our staff to ask why in the news he was reading all this information about trips," spokesman Scott Frotman said.
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 that tracks political donations and travel.
Some lawmakers and staff members wrote apologetic letters to the House ethics committee.
Rep. John Boehner, R-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 Rep. F. Allen Boyd Jr., D-Fla., took responsibility for not filing her documents after a trip to Kenya in December 2004. 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 Rep. 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.
"Someone had done a story and incorrectly listed my travel," Hart said in an interview, explaining what led her to check her records. She found an unreported trip she made to Hungary and Germany last November.
Popular destinations listed in the tardy disclosures included Amelia Island, Fla.; New York City; San Juan, Puerto Rico; San Francisco; San Diego; Miami and Las Vegas. Foreign sites included Cuba, Taiwan and Israel.
Among the most expensive trips:
—Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and his wife, Amy, traveled to Australia last November, listing a combined airfare of $24,804 paid by the American Australian Association. The nonprofit group says it is devoted to strengthening relations between the United States and two allies, Australia and New Zealand. Matheson said meals and lodging were picked up by the Australian government, but no amounts were specified.
—Rep. Bob Beauprez, R-Colo., and his wife, Claudia, traveled to Israel and Spain last November and December, listing the cost at $21,226. The travel, for participation in a Jerusalem conference, was financed by the Michael Cherney Foundation. The organization has various charity projects in Israel, including help for victims of suicide bombings.
—Rep. John Linder, R-Ga., and his wife, Lynne, traveled to Israel and Jordan in January 2004 at a cost of $19,650. Linder said the trip, sponsored by The Jerusalem Fund, was designed to promote international understanding.
Waters, the California Democrat, insisted her late reports were unrelated to DeLay's troubles, and blamed those who paid her way.
"Sometimes they run late because the people who are responsible for inviting you have to get you all the receipts and they are so slow," Waters said.