Lawmakers Agree to Refund Trip Costs After Ethics Panel Rulings

Rep. Tom Feeney has agreed to pay the costs of a 2003 trip to Scotland that apparently was paid for by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, leaders of the House ethics committee leaders announced Wednesday.

Feeney, R-Fla., contacted the committee in March 2005, after news reports said the trip was financed by Abramoff, not the sponsor that the lawmaker reported on a public disclosure form. The media reports also said the trip was mainly recreational.

The expenses were reported by Feeney as $5,643, and he agreed to pay the cost to the U.S. Treasury, said the statement by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., ethics committee chairman, and ranking Democrat Howard Berman of California.

"We concluded that the trip did not comply with House rules," the committee leaders said.

In a separate announcement, Hastings and Berman announced that defeated Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., agreed to pay donors of a 2003 trip more than $23,000 for violating the House's gift rule.

Weldon had taken several family members on the trip, which he said was unrelated to official duties. The committee concluded the travel was officially connected, and triggered a rule that allows sponsors to only pay for a spouse or child.

The committee did not say where Weldon had gone, or how many unauthorized family members went along.

"Rep. Weldon, through counsel, has stated his intent to make the repayment, and to notify us when the repayment has been made," the committee said.

"We intend to monitor his efforts to repay the expenses and to make further public statements if necessary or appropriate."

Abramoff bought influence in Congress with campaign donations, gifts and travel. He is serving a nearly six-year sentence for a fraudulent Florida business deal.

Still hanging over Abramoff is a public corruption case in Washington, where prosecutors are investigating Bush administration officials, federal lawmakers and their aides. Abramoff pleaded guilty in that case and is helping prosecutors.