One Democratic Texas congresswoman who went to the conference, Sheila Jackson Lee, didn’t file a disclosure because she had financed the trip out of her own budget, said a spokeswoman.
Democratic Michigan Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, who also chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, wrote in an e-mail, “My pre- and post-travel disclosure forms were submitted to the Clerk of the House within the specified time period.” But no record of her filings has appeared yet in the Clerk of the House’s database.
Democratic Congressional Black Caucus members Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Donna Christensen of the Virgin Islands also attended the conference, but have not yet filed disclosures, nor did they return repeated calls.
Carib News officials said they did nothing wrong. Karl Rodney, the group’s CEO, said the nonprofit is a charity and allowed to sponsor trips for elected officials. Carib News also publishes a newspaper covering the Caribbean community in New York.
But Kevin McKeon, a spokesman for the IRS in New York, said Carib News is not listed as a charity. There are no publicly available tax filings for the group, and it is not listed with the New York attorney general as required for charities based in New York state.
“I could find no record of a 501(c)(3) [the IRS code for a tax-exempt organization] by that name and address,” McKeon said.
Meanwhile, congressional ethics rules have become stricter in the past two years, banning free trips from any group – even charities – that receives money from any entity that employs lobbyists.
When the new ethics rules were adopted in January 2007, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the House had adopted a zero-tolerance policy when it came to gifts from lobbyists.
“Among other things, we will ban gifts, including meals and tickets, from lobbyists and the organizations that employ them, from financing travel for members or their staffs,” he said.
In its filings to the Ethics Committee for the St. Maarten trip, Carib News did not disclose the corporate sponsorships that were paying for the conference.
Rodney, the Carib News CEO, filed a “Private Sponsor Travel Certification Form” in October, checking the box that says, “I represent that the trip sponsor(s) has not accepted from any other source funds earmarked directly or indirectly to finance any aspect of the trip.”
“The Carib News Foundation is the sole sponsor for the trip,” said George Arzt, a spokesman for Rodney. “The corporations are contributors to the Foundation. Carib News Foundation pays for more than half of the symposium.”
Yet in his opening remarks in St. Maarten, Rodney, who has organized 13 annual conferences, thanked all of the corporate sponsors by name.
He expressed gratitude to AT&T for its sponsorship at all prior conferences and singled out Citigroup as being the biggest conference sponsor this year.
“And so we want to say thanks to Citi,” said Rodney. “It’s a great team to have working, and great partners.”