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GOP leader: Keep privately paid trips

Boehner backs tighter disclosure, opposes other proposals

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The new Republican leader in the House of Representatives backed more stringent disclosure rules for lawmakers and lobbyists Sunday, but criticized measures such as a ban on privately paid travel proposed by other GOP leaders.

Rep. John Boehner, who was elected House majority leader Thursday, also said limits on "earmarked" spending bills would help clean up Congress amid a wide-ranging influence-peddling probe.

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant," the Ohio congressman told NBC's "Meet the Press."

"If there is more disclosure of travel before you go, more disclosure of the relationship between lobbyists and members and their staff, let the American people take a look at this," said Boehner. "Let them watch it and let them judge what we're doing. I think that will reduce the amount of corruption and graft that goes on."

Boehner has taken trips valued at more than $157,000 since 2000, paid for by nonprofit trade organizations and think tanks, according to Federal Election Commission records compiled by the online research group Political Moneyline.

He told "Fox News Sunday" that the trips -- which include visits to Scotland, Belgium and Spain -- are necessary to keep lawmakers informed on the issues before them.

"We can't lock members up in a cubbyhole here in Washington and never let them see what's going on around the country and around the world," he said.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, and Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, a California Republican, have proposed a ban on privately paid travel as part of a reform package they outlined last month. Democrats have proposed a similar rule. (Full story)

The proposals followed January's guilty plea by Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist with extensive ties to top Republican leaders. Abramoff agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with federal prosecutors in an investigation that knowledgeable sources said could yield charges against a half-dozen people.

Among the lawmakers under scrutiny over privately funded travel is Rep. Bob Ney. Sources have identified Ney as the unnamed official listed in Abramoff's plea deal who allegedly took action for the lobbyist after receiving from him a golf trip to Scotland and other favors. Ney has steadfastly denied wrongdoing.

Democrats, meanwhile, have pounded at what they call a Republican "culture of corruption" on Capitol Hill.

In addition to the Abramoff scandal, they cite November's resignation and guilty plea by former California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who admitted taking bribes from defense contractors, and state money-laundering charges against former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican, who denies wrongdoing.

But Boehner, who sold himself to his GOP colleagues as a reform leader to replace DeLay, told Fox that some of the proposals being floated would treat members "like kids."

"Understand that all the activities associated with Jack Abramoff, Duke Cunningham, former member who resigned in disgrace, and other members who have problems -- they've already violated the law and/or they violated the rules of the House," he said.

"Bringing more transparency to this relationship, I think, is the best way to control it."

And he said he would not push for a complete ban on spending "earmarks," which are used to fund special projects for lawmakers' districts, but said they should be restricted.

"There's an appropriate place for some of these earmarks, but we need less numbers of earmarks and more transparency and more accountability," he told Fox. "Members' names ought to be associated with them. They ought to be visible, and members ought to have a chance to see these before they become law."

Critics, who include Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, say the use of earmarks, often added at the last minute to massive spending bills, have been a boon to lobbyists who push for them.

Boehner said he had "no relationship" with Abramoff, though some of Abramoff's "underlings" met several times with "some low-level employees of my office."

But he said that the investigation and the ongoing war in Iraq could spell trouble for the GOP in November's elections. (View a profile of Rep. Boehner)

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