Database of Foreign Gifts Available


Legistorm, a Web site dedicated to providing a variety of important information about the US Congress, has launched a new database of all foreign gifts (whether tangible gifts or travel) received by members of Congress and their staff since 1999. The database details each of the 450 gifts members of Congress and their aides reported receiving in the past decade. Senate rules require that senators and their staff must report all gifts over a $100 value threshold, and House members and their aides threshold has been adjusted for inflation and stands at $335.

Gifts from foreign sources were not affected by the reforms pushed through in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal. The giving and receiving of gifts is all part of diplomatic protocol, and the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act governs the practice. Congressional travel, including transportation, lodging, food and refreshments, make up the bulk of gifts received.

Something seems odd, however. Senators and executive branch officials reported many more gifts than House members. But only one House member, former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), reported receiving any gifts within the past five years. And even his disclosure did not follow the rules: he only reported his gifts while leaving office, years after he received them. Rules require that the disclosure occur within 60 days of receipt of the gift. Roll Call (subscription required) ran a story this morning on foreign gifts, and quoted House members as saying they had received gifts, but none had met the $335 threshold.

Lots of questions still to be asked here.