Local Politics

Butterfield cleared in House ethics probe of travel spending

Posted January 3, 2011 1:54 p.m. EST
Updated January 3, 2011 3:25 p.m. EST

— The House Ethics Committee has dropped an investigation into how North Carolina 1st District Congressman G.K. Butterfield and five other lawmakers spent federal travel funds while visiting foreign countries, citing a lack of evidence and confusion over rules on the use of such money.

The ruling comes after the House's independent ethics board found enough evidence to refer the matter to the ethics committee following a Wall Street Journal article in March that said lawmakers had used daily cash stipends to cover expenses that appeared to be unauthorized by House rules.

The investigation focused on Butterfield and Reps. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala.; Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.; Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.; Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas; and Joe Wilson, R-S.C.

Legislators are given up to $250 a day when they travel overseas to cover expenses like cabs and food.

The Wall Street Journal found that many such costs were picked up by foreign governments and U.S. embassies, often leaving leftover funds. Several current and former lawmakers told the newspaper that leftover per-diem money was often used for shopping or to cover spouses' travel expenses.

There is no system for lawmakers to return excess travel funds when they return to the U.S.

The ethics committee said in its report that there was no conclusive evidence that others were paying for these meals. Also, the State Department and congressional rules don't adequately spell out what spending was covered under official purposes.