The things that happen behind closed doors: In the case of the House, a quiet move that removed the requirement that lawmakers spell out free trips they've taken on annual financial-disclosure forms. The House Ethics Committee made no public announcement of the change, which the National Journal discovered in its review of the most recent crop of filings and which it notes "reverses more than three decades of precedent" stretching back to post-Watergate days. The head of an ethics-minded watchdog group calls it "an obvious effort to avoid accountability."
But the AP points out that the freebie trips will still have to be reported to the publicly available House clerk's website, and notes that the information logged there is far more specific than what lawmakers have had to provide on their financial disclosure forms (for instance, those forms didn't require the lawmaker to share lodging and transportation costs). But the National Journal calls those forms the "chief document" the media and watchdogs have long reviewed in relation to lawmakers' finances. As a lobbyist for a consumer group that tracks the Ethics Committee's moves puts it, the change "just seems a little odd." (Click to read about how lawmakers and lobbyists vacation together ... legally.)