House Ethics Rules Ground Pilots

 - January 25, 2007, 4:21 AM

The comity promised by new House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) lasted all of about 24 hours when the 110th Congress convened last month. As part of the Democrat majority’s 100 legislative-hour program, the chamber passed new ethics rules designed to keep lobbyists distanced from lawmakers and their staffs.

But according to one congressman, it inadvertently banned members of Congress from flying in their personally owned aircraft. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) fired off a letter to the speaker calling for an immediate correction to Section 207 of the Democrat House Rules proposal (H.Res.6).

“This conspicuous error is the result of the hasty, secretive manner in which you have assembled this legislation,” Issa wrote. “Contrary to your promise that members should have adequate time to review all substantive legislation, you prepared this package behind closed doors, without public input, and delivered the first copy of this important legislation to many members in the dark of night just hours before it was to be considered.”

Among the new House rules are bans on travel planned or paid for by lobbyists or organizations that employ them, as well as a specific ban on the use of corporate jets and reimbursing the owners. As the House rule is written, Issa said, it would prohibit members from using their personal funds for travel on their own aircraft for any purpose whatsoever, whether official or personal.

“In other words, this rule would prevent members who own aircraft from using them to commute between Washington and their district, and would also prohibit members from using a privately owned aircraft to conduct personal business or take a family vacation,” he wrote. “While I understand your intent is to prohibit members from traveling on corporate aircraft, the actual language being presented to the House will effect a much broader prohibition.”

Issa told Pelosi that he appreciated the bipartisan nature of the error in that it would ground both Republican and Democrat pilots alike.

The Senate also has proposed changing its ethics rules, but these do not include travel limitations or a ban on corporate jet use. However, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) want lawmakers to reimburse corporations for the use of their jets at the cost of a charter flight instead of the cost of a first-class ticket.

NBAA said it has always supported and continues to support full compliance by its members with all rules related to transport of elected officials. “NBAA’s updated Carriage of Elected Officials Handbook contains valuable information to help members comply with the rules, and members are encouraged to review that document,” the association said.