Rep. Nancy Pelosi is in trouble.
As House Democratic Leader, she is primed to go after House Majority Leader Tom DeLay for his ethical lapses. She has called for an investigation of a $70,000 trip made by DeLay, his wife and aides to the United Kingdom, possibly bankrolled by a lobbyist. Others have assailed DeLay for a 2001 trip to South Korea funded by a registered foreign agent.
But a funny thing happened on Pelosi's way to hers ethics coup: She ran afoul of the same rules she hurls at DeLay.
As The Washington Post reported, last week Pelosi filed delinquent reports for three trips she herself accepted from outside sponsors. The biggie was a week-long 1999 trip to Taiwan, paid for by the Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce. The tab for Pelosi and her husband: about $8,000.
Just last month, Pelosi spokeswoman Jennifer Crider told Roll Call that Pelosi's "position is that the rules are clear; people need to follow them." Within days, Pelosi had to re-file because she failed to follow these "clear" rules.
Here's another glitch: A senior aide to Pelosi, Eddie Charmaine Manansala, went on a 2004 $9,887 trip sponsored by the same Korea-U.S. Exchange Council -- then failed to file the mandated paperwork until a reporter asked about the trip.
And while Pelosi bashes GOP ethics, PoliticalMoneyLine, a data firm, crunched the numbers and found that in the last five years, Democrats took 3,458 privately funded junkets, while Republicans took 2,666.
PoliticalMoneyLine quipped: "Join Congress -- See the World."
Are these trips unethical or illegal? I'll answer the second part first. House rules prohibit junkets funded by lobbyists. But it's not clear that there has been a rules violation if a congressman was not aware that a lobbyist paid for the trip.
What's more, the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council wasn't registered as a foreign agent when the DeLay trip was planned. In fact, the group registered as a foreign agent only days before DeLay and company departed -- three years before Pelosi's aide trekked Seoul-ward.
Are these trips ethical? Consider DeLay's Seoul trip and Pelosi's Taiwan travel to fall into gray territory. On the one hand, elected officials see a new part of the world; on the other hand, they see what their sponsors want them to see.