Personal Ethics and On-the-Job Standards in Politics

Members of Congress who travel routinely on official trips for their congressional committees or make weekly visits to their home districts accumulate substantial frequent flier miles. If they travel at the invitation of private groups they gain more mileage credits. Yet, the Associated Press reports lawmakers are not required to disclose their mileage on reports about trips or on their annual ethics statements.

Representative Ray LaHood, Republican of Illinois, uses the frequent flier miles for upgrades and personal free trips.

“There’s no question, it’s a definite benefit. I would call it a nice perk,” LaHood told the Associated Press.

Jeff Joseph, spokesman for the Consumer Electronics Association, whose group pays for congressional trips to its convention in Las Vegas, commented to the Associated Press, “It does seem a bit strange that members have to report what really are nominal gifts. . . but not report frequent flier miles.”

Retired Senator Alan Simpson, Republican of Wyoming, says he sees no problem with lawmakers keeping frequent flier miles from government-sponsored travel. For travel paid by private groups, members of Congress should consider who is paying.

“If the red flag is up, you not only forget about miles, you forget about the trip”, Simpson said. He thinks it’s a waste of time for members to report the miles, but if the American people are concerned he told the Associated Press, “Just disclose it.”

It isn't just perks boosting politician incomes. Many Pennsylvania lawmakers who voted to raise their pay recently as full-time legislators reported in their 2004 financial disclosure statements that they work in a variety of jobs on the side or hold interests in numerous businesses according to an article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

“The rationale for having a full-time Legislature that’s well-paid – and ours is the second-highest paid in the nation – is that they be financially independent,” Villanova University political scientist Robert Maranto told the Tribune-Review

Former lawmaker Jeff Coleman, who left the Pennsylvania General Assembly last year, told the Tribune-Review that it would be hard to do a good job, stay in touch with the constituents and run a business on the side. But it’s legal to do so.

Lawmakers at all government levels face ethical issues on the job relating to the financial support information they use to make decisions on key issues. Curtis Verschoor, writing for Strategic Finance says that management accountants who supply financial information to lawmakers need to adhere to standards of ethical conduct. He recommends the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) Standards of Ethical Conduct.

“The IMA Standards state that management accountants and financial managers must perform their tasks with both integrity and objectivity. Integrity requires them to communicate unfavorable as well as favorable information and professional judgments or opinions," Verschoor, the Ledger and Quill Research Professor of accounting at DePaul University states.

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