MEMBERS of Congress who disport themselves on domestic and foreign "study" trips have taken due note of the ethics charges leveled against the Texas Republican caudillo, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. No fewer than 45 members, more than 10 per cent of the House, have filed reports of 198 unreported special-interest trips dating back to the late 1990s. At least, there is a bipartisan cast to these foot-dragging report-filers. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer disclosed 12 trips dating back to 1997.
Three other Democrats disclosed travel paid for by foundations or other private parties, including some foreign governments. The parties were roughly equal-opportunity offenders, the GOP with 23 late reports and the Democrats with 19. The torch of ethical behavior flickers perceptibly on Capitol Hill, but at least the publicity given to Mr. DeLay's alleged ethical violations has forced the late-filers, who might one day be sitting in judgment on him, to clean up their acts.
Lawmakers don't like being called junketeers. Perhaps a more pejorative term ought to be used for those whose moral compass does not point northward when it comes to the question of whether they ought to level with taxpayers.
Better yet, Congress should clean up its act and forbid members to accept gift travel from lobbyists and other private parties, with penalties sufficient to give pause to violators of the rule. Official congressional travel, within reason, should not be judged harshly, but it should be paid for by taxpayer funds with full disclosure to the public.