Earlier in the month it was revealed that the Chairman of the House Transportation Committee is dating a top lobbyist from the airline industry. His Chief of Staff is married to another top airline industry lobbyist. And he hired an airline industry lobbyist to run the Transportation Committee.
Supposedly, though, Congressman Bill Shuster doesn’t let his girlfriend lobby him (cough).
The Transparent Airfares Act that Shuster Promotes for Industry
Politico walks through the timeline of the Transparent Airfares Act which passed the House and would have allowed airlines to not show fully costed airfares.
I do think it’s strange that we treat airfares differently than pretty much anything else (virtually no products have to have tax-inclusive prices displayed, hotels can add mandatory resort fees).
This is more for historic reasons than anything else. Most products are governed by a mixture of state regulation, common law enforced through the courts, and the Federal Trade Commission.
In contrast the Airline Deregulation Act pre-empts state regulation, taking state laws and state courts mostly out of the process, and grants broad powers to the Department of Transportation — largely as a means of minimizing fears over what deregulation would have meant.
This special DOT regulatory power winds up in mandated all-in pricing, which is good (although they’ve proposed going way too far mandating one-size fits all fee disclosure as well).
Timeline of Shuster’s Relationship and Industry’s Legislation
The Transparent Airfares Act was re-introduced and pushed through the Committee in minutes and the House without a standalone vote in the spring of 2014.
Shuster only officially acknowledged his relationship to the industry knowledge contemporaneously with the official filing for his divorce in summer.
Up until that time she was the chief lobbyist for the Transparent Airfares Act.
Silence on whether they were actually already dating before putting it in writing while the Act was sailing through the House.
At the same time Rebecca Shuster was filing divorce papers, Bill Shuster filed a document with his office stating that he was dating Rubino and that she would not lobby him or his staff.
It is unclear when the relationship between Shuster and Rubino actually began. The two have long been close.
Shuster is still pushing for the bill. And his girlfriend is still its primary lobbyist, just lobbying all of the committee members that Shuster chairs. She doesn’t need to lobby him.
A4A was unsuccessful in getting the measure through the Senate, and it’s now seeking Shuster’s help again. The trade association is trying to wedge the legislation into a massive overhaul of the Federal Aviation Administration pending before the transportation panel. Shuster is crafting that bill, and Rubino’s group has a major stake in it.
Shuster’s talking points on the bill and graphics he uses, as noted by Politico are nearly identical to those used by Airlines 4 America.
What Should Happen to Shuster?
I actually don’t think it much matters that he’s dating this woman. It’s not as though he’d take a Solomonic approach to legislation but for his heart or his loins. He’s, essentially, the Congressman from Delta, American, and United.. to begin with.
And he doesn’t need to be officially ‘dating’ a lobbyist, Shuster is one of half a dozen congressman that John Boehner had to speak to about “partying with female lobbyists” back in 2010. Homeboy likes the lobbyists…
Nonetheless, House (lack of) rules notwithstanding, this represents a real conflict of interest. And any reasonable rule would have his step down as Chair of the House Transportation Committee to the extent he is in a relationship with one of the industry’s chief lobbyists.
(HT: David M.)