updated 4:10pm ET
Washington (CNN) – Two days after a little-known rules change became public, the chairman of the House Ethics Committee announced a complete reversal Thursday, and the committee reinstated a requirement for how members disclose privately-funded trips.
Ethics Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, revealed the U-turn during a local radio interview in Texas Thursday morning. A few hours later, the committee sent out an official seven-page statement confirming the reversal.
“In light of the feedback we have received from our fellow Members (of Congress) and after further consideration, we have determined that the Committee will return to its previous guidance regarding disclosure of privately sponsored travel… effective immediately,” the Ethics Committee statement read.
The committee did not give any other specific reason for rolling back its decision, but stressed the importance of protecting the integrity of the House.
This public reversal erases a rules change that was made by Ethics Chairman Conaway and top committee Democrat Linda Sanchez behind closed doors months ago, but was only revealed this week. It was first reported in a story by the National Journal.
What was the rules change, exactly?
The two top Ethics Committee members agreed to drop one requirement for how House members disclose privately-funded travel. Those trips are designated as diplomatic or informational and can be extensive, allowing lawmakers and their spouses to travel overseas and stay in well-appointed hotels with non-profit interest groups picking up the tab.
The change essentially removed the list of such trips from the high-profile financial disclosure report that each lawmaker must file. Those in favor of dropping that requirement argued that it was an unnecessary and outdated duplication, because the trips are reported in much greater detail in a separate Gift and Travel disclosure. According to the committee’s Thursday statement, it's staff reviewed more than 2500 disclosure reports in 2013 alone, a process that involves in-person interviews and lengthy reviews of information.
But watchdog groups like the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) pounced at the idea of removing the requirement, even if it was duplication. To those fighting for more transparency, it was a move in the other direction and made it easier for members of Congress to hide posh travel.
CREW credited public reaction for the 180-degree turn on the issue by Conaway and Sanchez.
"I think it was predictable," said CREW executive director Melanie Sloan, " There was too much immediate outrage over something they didn't need to do."
The House Ethics Committee has advised that any office which has already submitted a financial disclosure form without the travel information should now send that information to the House Clerk.