On Tuesday’s broadcast of CNN’s “AC360,” Government Accountability Institute President Peter Schweizer reacted to changes in congressional travel rules and how those trip are financed by any outside donors.
The change, which is buried deep in the House Ethic Committee’s Guidelines declared “gift of travel regardless of its dollar value and paid for by a private source, does not need to be reported,” according to a report by CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown.
Schweizer reacted to the change and told fill-in host John Berman this change was a bipartisan effort by Congress made out of convenience and just another sign of all things re doing on Capitol Hill.
Transcript as follows:
BERMAN: I want to bring in Peter Schweizer, the president of the Government Accountability Institute. He joins me live right now.
Peter, you know, you’re an expert in this type of thing. How concerning is this move? This change in the dead of night to you?
SCHWEIZER: Well, it’s just another example of how Congress is operating. You talked about it. You’ve got this bipartisan shrouding. This is one of the few areas that we seem to get both political parties to cooperate on, and that is limiting the access that people have to information on who is trying to influence them, who is giving them favors.
But the second problem is this notion that the emphasis is entirely on their own convenience. The rationale that they’re giving for changing this disclosure requirement is it’s more convenient for them.
Now we don’t want them to do unnecessary paperwork, but, you know, John, when was the last time they tried to make government forms for us more convenient? To me, it’s just an example of Congress being detached from the very real concern that people have about ethics in Washington.
BERMAN: And to be clear as you were saying, they still have to disclose this type of information. They have to disclose it in fewer places, one place rather than two and for reporters, it’s not the place that we usually look for this information so it is harder to get. Isn’t that the issue here?
SCHWEIZER: That’s exactly right. You have to really know where to look for it. In other words, you have to go to the House Ethics Web site. You can search for it. But what it does, really, John, is it depersonalizes it.
Look, the reason that people are sponsoring trips for powerful members of Congress on certain committees is they want to influence them. They want access, they want time with them. They want to give them a nice trip because they’re hoping that they will courie favor.
If that’s not on their personal financial disclosure form but it’s instead on this sort of data base on this Web site that you’ve got to know about to find, it depersonalizes it and for voters who are interested in understanding what perks or favors are being done for members of Congress, it really makes it difficult to find and if we are going to have self-governance in this country, we need to have voters that can access that kind of information easily.
BERMAN: And knowing is all voters really want here because there are legitimate reasons to go on trips like this. Congress people can work together which is always a good thing. They can learn more about the issues they’re covering, which is always a good thing.
The flip side of that, though, is when you get these Jack Abramoff situations. Everyone always remembers him, the lobbyist, who eventually indicted, served time in prison for, among other things, bribing public officials. Is that the concern here?
SCHWEIZER: I think it’s the combination of things. I mean, certainly you have special interest whether they are corporations, labor unions, trade associations, that will funnel money to, say, a non-profit organization, which is the legitimate entity that will funnel money to, say, a non-profit organization, which is the legitimate entity that can, you know, sponsor a trip like this that they can interest them.
But I think it’s not just sort of the extreme cases like the Abramoff case. I think just this is sort of the currency of how Washington works. And that is, members of Congress, I think it’s human nature, are going to feel more beholden to somebody who has given their family or themselves a nice trip to, say, Europe or Asia. It’s just the nature of the way human beings operate, and especially if they get more face time with them. So it’s part of the influence industry. We’re all realistic and recognize that it takes place. But it’s got to be disclosed and it’s got to be accessible in an easy way where voters and reporters can find it.
BERMAN: All right. Peter Schweizer, maybe they will change this decision. They do have that chance. Appreciate you being with us.
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