Ethics probe ends; too little evidence found

Butterfield one of 6 investigated

Washington correspondentJanuary 4, 2011 

— The bipartisan House ethics committee has ended its investigation of U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Wilson Democrat, and five other House members over per diem travel payments after finding insufficient evidence of wrongdoing.

The others were U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings of Florida, Solomon Ortiz of Texas, Eliot Engel of New York, Robert Aderholt of Alabama and Joe Wilson of South Carolina.

The committee undertook its investigation after referrals last summer from the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.

That office based its investigation on a Wall Street Journal article from March 2010 about House members who did not return unused portions of their travel per diems.

In Butterfield's case, the ethics office said in a 20-page report that the congressman received excess per diem in four trips between June 2008 and August 2009 even as he received 40 "hosted" meals.

It found that he had not returned a total of $1,509 from four trips that included visits to Lithuania, Belgium, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, the United Kingdom, Italy, Liberia, Ghana, South Africa and Morocco.

The office also found that he used per diem for expenses not related to his travel, such as souvenirs.

But the ethics committee staff said it did not find evidence to support that report. The staff also said its evidence showed only that Butterfield attended 12 "hosted" meals, as the report described them.

Interviews in the committee's 800-page report show that House members are given only general guidance about how to use the per diems and are "highly encouraged" to return unused per diems to the U.S. Treasury. Receipts are not required.

The announcement on dismissing the ethics probe came Friday from House ethics committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren of California and ranking member Joe Bonner of Alabama.

"The Committee concludes that there is insufficient evidence to determine with any degree of certainty that any one of the Members were provided an amount of per diem that was not necessary for their respective trips," the committee's report said.

bbarrett@mcclatchydc.com or 202-383-0012

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