Watchdogs Support Changes to House Reimbursement Rules to Curb Abuse by Members and Staff
Today, the Campaign Legal Center, Public Citizen and Common Cause expressed strong support for a proposed revision of House regulations governing permissible reimbursements for automobile mileage, private aircraft use and office decoration. The groups are urging the full House Administration Committee to vote in favor of the revisions to the rules which were introduced in the wake of a number of reimbursement scandals in Congress.
The proposed Committee Resolution 114, which is expected to be voted on by the full Committee on Wednesday, addresses misuse of taxpayer dollars through the rules governing the Members' Representational Allowance (MRA). The proposal would prohibit Members from using taxpayer dollars to pay for private or charter aircraft from the Washington DC area to any location without prior written approval from the House Administration Committee. Also, any use of private or charter aircraft valued at more than $7,500 would require prior written approval by the Committee. The new regulation also does not permit mileage reimbursements for the use of vehicles “owned or leased by the principal campaign of a Member, a political-action committee, or a political party.” The proposal would also make the provisions available online in a searchable, sortable format rather than pdfs.
The highest profile scandal involved former Representative Aaron Schock (R-IL) who initially attracted attention for a “Downton Abbey” inspired re-decoration of his Washington office. Subsequent investigations revealed a pattern of misuse of reimbursements of taxpayer funds for automobiles and chartered aircraft by Schock.
“It is vital that Members be publicly accountable for their use of taxpayer funds to prevent abuses and for the House to have rules to ensure compliance,” said Meredith McGehee, Policy Director of the Campaign Legal Center. “Scandals like those surrounding former Representative Schock undermine public confidence in our democratic institutions and feed an unhealthy cynicism about out system. Putting the reports on congressional spending online in a ‘searchable, sortable format’ (instead of pdf’s) is overdue and a win for increased government transparency. The House and Senate still need to address the inadequate rules and loopholes governing privately financed travel, but this proposal appears to be a good faith effort on reimbursements.”
“Hopefully, the Schock scandal is a rarity in Congress, but it does highlight what can go wrong when there is insufficient transparency,” said Public Citizen Government Affairs Lobbyist Craig Holman. “These proposals offer very useful improvements in the management of Members’ Representational Allowances, especially by making the disclosures ‘searchable, sortable and downloadable’ on-line for easy access by the public. It could have mandated greater detail of travel itineraries, but at least the proposal would eliminate the general category of ‘travel subsistence’ and replace it with some specificity. The proposed improvements are indeed welcome.”
“These new House rules take significant steps forward in transparency and accountability,” said Common Cause president Miles Rapoport. “Common Cause applauds the bipartisan leadership of Representatives Rodney Davis and Zoe Lofgren for addressing these important reforms.”
The groups commended the task force, headed by Representatives Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), that developed the proposal, and urged the House Administration Committee to move this measure through the Committee expeditiously.