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Abercrombie Asks Ethics to Investigate His Travel

House Armed Services Committee member Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) took a two-day trip to Boston in June 2001 that was paid for by a lobbying firm with business before the committee, according to House travel records.

In an apparent violation of House ethics rules, the $1,782 tab for the trip was picked up by the Rooney Group International, an Arlington, Va.-based firm that represents an array of defense companies.

After Roll Call inquired about the trip on Wednesday, Abercrombie spokesman Mike Slackman requested a review of the trip by the House ethics committee.

“If there’s a problem, we’ll ask them to take the necessary corrective action,” Slackman said.

Slackman said that while “it was our understanding at the time the trip was legal,” staffers did not clear the trip with the ethics committee.

“Everything we did, we did on good faith,” Slackman said. “And we’ve revealed everything.”

The revelation comes as Abercrombie’s fellow Democrats continue to press their attack on House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who has experienced a storm of criticism driven in part by trips he took that appear to have been sponsored by private interests.

James Rooney, founder of the Rooney Group International, said his firm did not pay for Abercrombie’s trip. Instead, he said, the trip was covered by the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, a philanthropic group Abercrombie addressed while in Boston.

“It didn’t cost me a nickel,” Rooney said, though he added that he was unsure whether he paid for the trip and then was reimbursed by the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company. No officials of that group were available Wednesday to discuss the trip.

Even if Rooney did get reimbursed, the trip would constitute a violation of House rules, said Melanie Sloan, of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonpartisan watchdog group.

“It’s not suddenly OK to make a trip on a lobbyist’s dime if you’re not doing it for the lobbyist client, or if the lobbyist is being reimbursed,” she said.

A spokesman for the House ethics committee declined to comment. That panel’s work has effectively been frozen since Democrats objected to three new rules adopted at the start of the 109th Congress.

On June 3, 2001, Abercrombie flew from Hawaii to Boston to take part in the artillery company’s annual June Day dinner. The company, which claims to be the third oldest military organization in the world, now acts as a historical society, fraternal organization and charity, according to its Web site.

Every first Monday in June since its founding in 1638, the company stages a parade through Boston that ends in Boston Common, where members elect a new “captain commanding,” Rooney said.

That night, participants gather for a formal dinner. In 2001, addressing a dinner crowd of about 1,100, Abercrombie discussed “defense preparedness and the process in government of how defense appropriations work,” Rooney said.

“Most speakers can’t hold that crowd’s attention,” Rooney said. “But when [Abercrombie] spoke, you could hear a pin drop.”

On June 5, Abercrombie flew to Washington, D.C. The airline travel for the trip cost $1,553, and two nights at a hotel cost $229. Abercrombie traveled alone, according to Slackman, who said he did not recall the Congressman’s hotel.

Rooney said Abercrombie received no honorarium for the speech, and said he himself acts as a liaison to the company in Washington, helping recruit prominent speakers for the annual event.

Abercrombie “does not have a single vested business interest in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Rooney said, “and I don’t have a single client that he was going up there to speak to.”

But in 2001, Rooney represented several defense industry clients with business before the Armed Services Committee, according to Senate filings. They included BAE Systems, an international manufacturer of military vehicles and aircraft; SaabTech USA, which designs electronic warfare systems; and Nammo, a Norwegian producer of ammunition.

“Our clients benefit directly from RGI’s long-standing relationships developed through years of interaction with activities of the Federal Government,” the firm’s Web site says.

Abercrombie is not the first House Democrat to face questions about his travel. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) may also have violated House rules by taking a 2001 trip to Puerto Rico that appears to have been sponsored by a lobbying firm, The Washington Times reported Wednesday.

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