Ethics complaint filed against Neb. state lawmaker

Ethics complaint filed against Nebraska state lawmaker for trip to Canada's tar sands region

Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- A watchdog group has filed an ethics complaint against a Nebraska state senator, alleging he failed to disclose travel expenses during a visit to a tar sands mining area in Canada.

The complaint against Sen. Jim Smith, of Papillion, says the lawmaker should have disclosed a charter flight provided by the government of Alberta, a Canadian province that is pushing for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. The complaint was filed by the Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal watchdog that monitors the influence of corporations in government.

Smith was one of nine U.S. state lawmakers on the trip, sponsored by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a coalition of conservative lawmakers, businesses and foundations. The tour included visits with TransCanada Inc., the pipeline's developer.

The complaint alleges Smith failed to disclose roughly $1,467 for the flight to a remote mining area. The flight was paid for by Alberta's provincial government and possibly a second, unknown sponsor, according to the complaint.

Smith, who supports the pipeline, said Wednesday that he consulted with staff from the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission before he took the trip, in anticipation that it would be scrutinized. The Keystone XL has faced some of its most vocal opposition from a group of Nebraska landowners and activists.

Smith said his group was flown from Calgary to one of the tar sands facilities in a twin-engine airplane, so members could learn how the mining and oil-shipping process worked.

The flight "was cold and cramped, and the cloud cover was low," Smith said. "It was not a luxury flight, by any means."

Smith said he believes the trip was handled properly and the required disclosures were made. He said he paid for his own commercial flight to Canada and a hotel room. Smith said he was told that meals did not have to be disclosed and that flights within Canada were considered "incidental" and not subject to reporting requirements.

Frank Daley, the accountability commission's executive director, said he could not comment on a pending case. A violation of the reporting requirement could trigger a fine of up to $2,000, a cease-and-desist letter or an order to amend a disclosure report.

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