Congressional Black Caucus Upset About NLPC-Triggered Probe of Caribbean Junket

St. Maarten photoMike Soraghan reports in today’s edition of The Hill:

An investigation into a trip taken by members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is triggering a backlash against the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s signature ethics proposal.

CBC members, frustrated at what they perceive as an accusation by a conservative group that’s been blown out of proportion, last week formed a working group to look at taking on the 2006 resolution that created the OCE.

The junket to sunny St. Maarten took place the weekend after the election in 2008. I attended in order to document violations of House Rules that prohibit corporate sponsorship of travel and hospitality.

The trip was funded by “lead sponsor” Citigroup, a major recipient of bailout funds, which contributed $100,000. Other sponsors included IBM, AT&T, Verizon, Pfizer, Macy’s and American Airlines.

On May 22, the House Ethics Committee asked me to provide photographs, audio recordings and other materials related to the trip by the following five House members: Charles Rangel (D-NY), Donald Payne (D-NJ), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-MI), Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Donna Christensen (D-VI).

As The Hill points out:

House rules imposed by Democrats after they took back the House in 2006 bar lawmakers from accepting travel lasting more than two days if corporations that “employ or retain a registered lobbyist” are underwriting or organizing any part of them. They were designed to prevent trips like the now-infamous golf junket to Scotland that Abramoff organized.

I don’t remember the CBC asserting that the Abramoff trip had been blown out of proportion. House rules should be enforced using a single standard. That said, the CBC does make an interesting point about the Ethics Committee’s lack of action on John Murtha’s pay-to-play scheme:

They (the CBC) think allegations surrounding the Caribbean trip pale in comparison to other ethics situations, such as the investigation into connections between lawmakers and the PMA Group, a lobbying firm. The ethics committee recently acknowledged that it is investigating those connections, but there is also a federal criminal probe. They note that Pelosi sought to block votes in the House demanding an ethics investigation into PMA, which had close ties to Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), a close Pelosi ally.

Of course, the CBC did not point to the lack of action on Rangel’s tax evasion, exposed by NLPC. That would seem to be a serious matter, too. Rangel is a CBC founder.

NLPC’s position is that all of these matters should be vigorously investigated by the Ethics Committee, especially in light of Pelosi’s pledge to “drain the swamp” of Congressional corruption.

The Hill included my take on the CBC critique:

“I’m a little surprised by their reaction,” Flaherty said. “It’s pretty clear they violated the House rules.”

He said he was also surprised that the CBC formed a group to look at the OCE, because lawmakers have insisted that the CBC was not a sponsor of the trip.

He also dismissed the idea that the investigation of the trip is driven by partisanship.

“The goods I brought back speak for themselves. Photographs aren’t Republican or Democratic,” Flaherty said.