With the revelation Thursday that House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., has “a personal and private relationship” with a top airline lobbyist, according to a Politico report, it seemed only fitting to pull this exclusive out of the Roll Call archives.
Shuster’s father was chairing the same committee in 1996 when Roll Call observed him leaving a lobbyist’s Alexandria, Va., home on Jan. 25 at 7 a.m. Their deep ties were uncovered in this 1,400-word front-page story published on Feb. 8, 1996.
Transportation Chair Lodges With Ex-Aide Who Makes Six Figures Lobbying His Panel
By Timothy J. Burger, Feb. 8, 1996
In a potential violation of the House’s gift rules, Rep. Bud Shuster (R-Pa) has been regularly lodging in the northern Virginia townhouse of Ann Eppard, a lobbyist making hundreds of thousands of dollars representing clients before the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that Shuster chairs.
By his own account, Shuster has stayed overnight “many times” at the $823,000 Alexandria waterfront home of Eppard, though he denied that he “lives” there.
Multiple Congressional and transportation industry sources told Roll Call that Shuster has been regularly staying at Eppard’s when he is in Washington.
For 22 years — until the day after the GOP won control of the House in 1994 — Eppard was Shuster’s top Congressional aide. Now, she is a lobbyist whose firm has made more than $500,000 in the past year representing an array of transportation companies with major interests before Shuster’s committee.
But their ties are far more extensive than those between most lobbyists and the chairmen they seek to influence.
Eppard runs her flourishing lobbying company, Ann Eppard Associates, Ltd., out of the same Alexandria home where Shuster stays.
And she continues on Shuster’s campaign payroll as his top political aide, earning $3,000 a month to oversee a fundraising operation that netted Shuster’s re-election campaign $655,000 last year — at least $25,000 of it from Eppard’s transportation clients and their PACs.
Now, Eppard is even spearheading fundraising for Shuster’s son Bob, a former aide to Rep. Bill Clinger (R-Pa) who is seeking a Congressional seat adjacent to his father’s. With Eppard’s help, Bob Shuster has already raised more than $100,000 for his fledgling campaign, much of it from the same transportation interests with business before his father’s committee.
Their close ties extend even to the car Eppard owns — a 1994 Dodge sedan whose front bumper sports an official looking license plate, “US House PA 9.” Shuster’s the one who represents Pennsylvania’s 9th district, but according to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Eppard owns the car.
“There is a serious potential for this being a conflict of interest,” said Josh Goldstein, research director for the Center for Responsive Politics. “Certainly you have to question whether or not … that person has special influence with the Member of Congress.”
But the most immediate question, according to a bipartisan assortment of Congressional ethics experts, is compliance with the House’s gift rules. If Shuster has not paid rent, experts unanimously agreed, that arrangement may be suspect.
Asked about the ethics implications of a committee chairman often staying with a lobbyist who has business before him, a Republican attorney who is an expert on Congressional ethics said: “There’s a question of whether or not he’s receiving a gift of any sort. … I think it boils down to whether the guy’s paying rent, unless he’s got some waiver from the ethics committee.”
But the Republican added that it “is unimaginable” that the panel would permit such an arrangement.
“The $64 question for you is, is there rent being paid?” — and at fair market value, said Stan Brand, a former House counsel who is now a partner in the firm Brand, Lowell & Ryan.
The House’s newly passed gift ban does make certain exceptions for hospitality from lobbyists who are “personal friends” of Members and pay for gifts strictly from personal funds.
But Brand said he does not believe that the situation would be mitigated by determining that Eppard is a personal friend of Shuster’s.
“I don’t think the previous relationship matters,” he said.
In a brief telephone interview Jan. 25 — after being observed leaving Eppard’s home at 7 a.m. by Roll Call — Shuster said he doesn’t “live” with Eppard and insisted that he and his wife Pat “have a small place here in town.”
When asked where he lives when he’s in Washington, Shuster replied, “That’s none of your damn business.” He concluded, “I resent your question” and hung up the phone.
Shuster and his wife own a house in Fairlington, Va., property records show. But that is currently rented out and, according to Shuster’s financial disclosures, has been so for years. Property records indicate that Shuster owns no other residence in DC and he has no residential phone number in the Washington region.
Shuster’s Transportation Committee chief of staff, Jack Schenendorf, said that Shuster told him to tell Roll Call that “he’s been meticulous about clearing everything with the ethics committees and so has Ann.”
But he said the Congressman did not specifically say ethics had approved his stays at Eppard’s home.
Schenendorf said the Shuster and Eppard families have been close for 25 years. “I have been at dinner at Ann’s house when his [Shuster’s] whole family was there,” he said.
But Schenendorf insisted he does not know where Shuster does live while in Washington.
“I don’t know what people’s personal lives have to do with this and I don’t know what their personal situation is,” Schenendorf said.
Eppard on Jan. 26 scheduled an interview with Roll Call for that afternoon. But an aide later called back to say that Eppard’s “legal advisers have instructed her to cancel today’s meeting.”
Neither Shuster nor Eppard has responded to questions about their living arrangements — most importantly, whether the Congressman has paid Eppard anything for his stays or received an advisory ethics opinion and why Eppard has been using an official-looking Congressional plate on her car.
The Journal of Commerce, which first reported on Eppard’s meteoric rise as a staffer-turned-lobbyist last July, estimated last month that Ann Eppard Associates earned at least $500,000 in its first year.
While serving on Shuster’s staff, Eppard’s salary topped out around $100,000.
Ethics rules barred Eppard from directly lobbying Shuster until November 1995. But since she had been a personal office — and not a committee — employee, the GOP takeover of Congress inadvertently offered Eppard a big loophole even before last November: Because her boss of 22 years was just the Transportation panel’s ranking member when she left the Hill, she faced no restrictions on her ability to lobby other Transportation members, despite Shuster’s ascension to the chairmanship last January.
Shuster, say other transportation lobbyists, has made it clear in industry circles how much he continues to value Eppard’s counsel — and that, they insist, has helped Eppard’s business.
At one dinner that Eppard helped organize after the 1994 elections, for example, Shuster told representatives from the air transportation industry a “lot of nice things about Ann. About how good she is and how well she knows the Hill,” according to a source with knowledge of the event.
Eppard’s lobbyist disclosure forms show she has represented some 22 clients, including United Airlines, Federal Express, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, and the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. Many of them have big stakes in key Shuster legislative interests like keeping the highway trust funds “off budget” and restrictions on billboards on those highways.
And a Roll Call study of Shuster’s 1995 Federal Election Commission reports found that many of the transportation industry leaders who are paying Eppard to represent them before Shuster are at the same time handing out campaign contributions to Shuster — whose chief fundraiser is Eppard.
Among the 1995 Shuster contributors who are paying Eppard to lobby are the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, which paid Eppard at least $20,000 in 1995 while its officials gave Shuster’s campaign a minimum of $2,000 and the group’s PAC gave $5,000 to the Congressman.
The Natural Disaster Coalition, concerned about issues surrounding the National Disaster Protection Act, paid Ann Eppard Associates at least $40,000 last year for lobbying, and NDC executive director John Weber and deputy director Dave DeSantis each gave Shuster’s campaign $1,000, according to FEC records.
Shuster’s campaign also received $1,000 from the president of the Pennsylvania construction firm Day & Zimmerman, for whom Eppard is registered in Harrisburg to lobby the state government.
Meanwhile, Shuster’s 1995 campaign disbursements included numerous payments to employees of Eppard’s lobbying firm attributed to “fund raising activity” — suggesting Shuster’s campaign fundraising is being handled largely out of a lobbying office whose main source of income is representing clients before Shuster.
Eppard has also chaired the Bud Shuster Portrait Committee, which raised money to pay for a portrait of the chairman that source said cost more than $40,000 and was unveiled in the Transportation Committee room Jan. 22.