It’s hard to decide which is the worst part of the House Ethics Committee’s report on member/staff travel to Baku, Azerbaijan, but I am going to go with the discussion of tangible gifts. At least it is easiest to explain why that part is wrong. I will discuss other aspects of the report in future posts.
As you may recall, a large number of members and staff traveled to a 2013 conference in Baku, courtesy of a rather shadowy group of Turkish American non-profit organizations. The travel was approved in advance by the Ethics Committee, but the approval letter explicitly warned each traveler about the possible receipt of gifts from foreign governments during the trip. Specifically, the letter noted that “[a]ny tangible gifts valued in excess of $350 received from a foreign government must, within 60 days of acceptance, be disclosed on a Form for Disclosing Gifts from Foreign Governments and either turned over to the Clerk of the House, or, with the written approval of the Committee, retained for official use.” Report at 20 n. 95.