WASHINGTON -- Rep. Jerry Lewis and seven fellow members of Congress jetted to Europe in July 2003 on official government business and dined in restaurants from Warsaw to Lisbon.
Instead of paying for the meals out of their government allowances, they were treated by a parade of defense contractors and lobbyists, most of which sent personnel to Europe to host the meals, according to foreign-service officials and the companies. The meals gave Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp. and others private access to legislators who control billions of dollars in government contracts.
At the time, Mr. Lewis headed a House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee in charge of defense spending. He now chairs the House Appropriations Committee itself, which decides where a big portion of government money is spent.
One problem: The hitherto undisclosed free meals likely violated House rules and possibly federal law, experts on congressional ethics say. House rules, designed to prevent private interests from unduly influencing legislators' work, bar members -- with some exceptions -- from accepting such meals on congressional trips abroad. [....]
The Lewis delegation traveled in late July and early August during Congress's summer recess. In addition to Mr. Lewis, the Republicans in the delegation were Joe Barton of Texas, Ken Calvert of California, Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, John McHugh of New York and Adam Putnam of Florida. The Democrats were Mr. Mollohan of West Virginia and Lucille Roybal-Allard of California.
In response to written questions, a spokesman for Mr. Putnam says in an email that the lawmaker "didn't know/remember who paid for the dinners," but that he "fully complied with the regulations governing per diems." [....]
The House Ethics Committee says to date there haven't been any investigations or action taken against members who break the rules by accepting the free meals. A spokesman for the ethics committee says it isn't responsible for day-to-day oversight of codels and per diems. But "if an infraction of the rule were brought to our attention, that would be another matter."