Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Bob Ney Closer To Being Indicted

It looks as though Bob Ney could be only a few steps away from being indicted.

The story below just makes the case against him that much stronger:

An Ohio lawmaker whose travel is under scrutiny stopped accepting paid trips for himself and his staff shortly after questions were raised about who funded his trip to Scotland with lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

After accepting 131 trips worth $234,775 in 4 1/2 years, Rep. Bob Ney and his staff haven't let a private outside group pay for their travel since June 14, 2005, according to an Associated Press review of travel disclosure forms Ney's office filed with the House clerk.

In March 2005, the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research denied paying $3,200 for a 2002 trip Ney took to Scotland, as Ney had listed on a disclosure form. Ney acknowledges taking the trip with Abramoff, who has since pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges. But spokesman Brian Walsh said Ney was told the policy center, not Abramoff, would sponsor the trip.

"It appears now that that might not have been the case," Walsh said Thursday. "Until there was a way to protect himself, the congressman thought it would be best to wait until the privately funded travel system is reformed" before taking or approving any more trips.

Ney has said he was duped by Abramoff, who was on the policy center's board at the time.

It's legal for private interest groups to pay for lawmaker and staff travel as long as they are not lobbyists or foreign agents. Lawmakers and their staffs typically take the trips to learn about industries and issues or meet with other government officials.

Foreign industry organizations, policy groups and international trade councils paid for Ney's staff to go to India, Malaysia, Singapore, the Caribbean, Taiwan, England, France, Germany and Russia, according to the disclosure forms. Investment and lending companies, manufacturing associations and think-tanks were among those paying for domestic trips.

A trip sometimes included more than one staff member, but their expenses were paid for separately and the travel is reported for each employee.

Ney did take a government funded trip in the last year, to Israel, Kuwait, Iraq and Germany in December.

Ney's former Chief of Staff Neil Volz, who went on to lobby with Abramoff, pleaded guilty May 8, admitting he tried to corrupt Ney and his staff with trips and other gifts. Federal prosecutors' court filings have stated Ney and his staff accepted trips from Abramoff and his associates in exchange for official acts. On Wednesday, the House ethics committee opened an investigation of Ney, which the Ohio Republican welcomed as a chance to clear his name.

Ney is not the most frequent congressional traveler, even in the Ohio delegation. According to the Political Money Line campaign finance tracking service, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones has, since 2000, taken the second-most privately funded trips - 68 - of any House member. In that time span, Ney has filed disclosure forms for 12 trips.

Walsh said it's important to look at travel by Ney and his employees in context.

"Over 200 members of Congress failed to file the proper travel disclosure forms, but the congressman is not one of them," Walsh said.

As chairman of the House Administration Committee from 2001 to earlier this year, Ney had as many as 50 staff members at his disposal, compared with 17 for non-chairmen, Walsh said.

Twenty-two different Ney staffers took privately funded trips since 2000. Half of them worked only for his committee office, and the frequency and cost of travel increased after he became chairman.

Ney has said he wants the House ethics committee to review trips from outside groups ahead of time. Earlier this month, the House passed legislation that would allow privately funded travel only with preapproval by two-thirds of the ethics committee, but the bill must be reconciled with a Senate version.

John Boehner says the Republicans do not have a corruption problem.

However, the American people seem to differ.

It is time for ethics reform!