Abramoff-financed trip will be paid for by Florida

Published: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 10:52 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Rep. Tom Feeney has agreed to pay the costs of a 2003 trip to Scotland that apparently was paid for by lobbyist Jack Abramoff or his clients, House ethics committee leaders said Wednesday.

Feeney, R-Fla., sought committee review in March 2005, after news reports said Abramoff — a now-imprisoned influence peddler — financed the trip rather than the sponsor listed by the lawmaker on a public disclosure form. The media reports also said the trip was mainly recreational.

House rules prohibit lobbyists from paying for lawmakers' travel.

The expenses were reported by Feeney as $5,643, paid by The National Center for Public Policy Research. A report prepared last year by Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee said the group used money from Abramoff's clients to sponsor golf trips in 2000 and 2003 to Scotland for members of Congress. Committee Republicans, who were in the majority, agreed to release the report.

Feeney agreed to pay the cost of the trip to the U.S. Treasury, said the statement by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., ethics committee chairman, and ranking Democrat Howard Berman of California.

"We concluded that the trip did not comply with House rules," the committee leaders said.

Jason Roe, Feeney's chief of staff, said Feeney was the only member of Congress on the trip he took.

Roe said Feeney stayed four or five days, paid his own golfing greens fees and then left Scotland for a personal vacation — paying his own way back home. Roe said Feeney is still not certain who actually paid for the trip.

In a separate announcement, Hastings and Berman announced that defeated Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., agreed to pay donors of a 2003 trip more than $23,000 for violating the House's gift rule.

Weldon had taken several family members on the trip, which he said was unrelated to official duties. The committee concluded the travel was officially connected, and triggered a rule that allows sponsors to only pay for a spouse or child.

The committee did not say where Weldon had gone, or how many unauthorized family members went along.

"Rep. Weldon, through counsel, has stated his intent to make the repayment, and to notify us when the repayment has been made," the panel said. "We intend to monitor his efforts to repay the expenses and to make further public statements if necessary or appropriate."

Abramoff bought influence in Congress with campaign donations, gifts and travel. He is serving a nearly six-year sentence for a fraudulent Florida business deal.

Still hanging over Abramoff is a public corruption case in Washington, where prosecutors are investigating Bush administration officials, federal lawmakers and their aides. Abramoff pleaded guilty in that case and is helping prosecutors.

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