Non-Profits Push House To Bring Fellows’ Funding Out Of The Shadows

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Government accountability non-profits want the U.S. House of Representatives to change its rules to require public disclosure of third-party funded congressional fellowships.

“Congressional fellowships are a valuable resource for both Congress and non-government professionals across disciplines,” the nonprofit groups said in a letter addressed to members of Congress. “However, without proper oversight and transparency, this program may be misused at the expense of taxpayer interests and erode citizen trust in Congress.”

Signers of the letter included Downsize DC, Liberty Coalition, National Taxpayers Union, Project on Government Oversight (POGO), Rutherford Institute and Taxpayer Protection Alliance.

The House Ethics Manual says congressional fellows — which companies, universities, foundations and other private entities fund for individuals to work in House and Senate offices — can’t intervene in projects that benefit their sponsoring organizations.

The rules don’t, however, require congressional offices or fellows to report their connections to sponsoring organizations. U.S. Senate rules require senators to disclose funding for congressional fellows, according to the letter.

POGO investigated conflicts of interest on the Senate side using available disclosures, but couldn’t scrutinize the House for similar conflicts of interest. (RELATED: Congress Exempted Itself From Obamacare Because It’s Listed As A Small Business)

POGO found Nevada’s Democratic Sen. Harry Reid in 2001 — while he was the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works — accepted congressional fellow Peter Winokur to work on energy and transportation policy.

But the Institute of Electrical and Electronics’ industry group IEEE-USA funded Winokur’s $120,000-a-year salary, and Winokur worked on the Energy Policy Act of 2002, which may have benefitted the people paying his salary, had it passed the House, according to POGO.

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