Tags: Bill Shuster | Travel Transparency Act | Shelley Rubino

Rep. Shuster Pushed Transport Bill Favored by Lobbyist Girlfriend

By    |   Friday, 24 April 2015 01:25 PM

The romantic relationship between the head of the House Transportation Infrastructure Committee and a lobbyist for the airline industry, as well as his dealings with her employer, are raising eyebrows on Capitol Hill, but the lawmaker, Pennsylvania Republican Bill Shuster and his allies say he has done nothing wrong.

His relationship with Airlines for America (A4A) lobbyist Shelley Rubino became public after he was pushing the Travel Transparency Act through the House, reports Politico.

The bill, which allows airlines to advertise a ticket's base price without including fees and taxes, was at a standstill until last year, when Shuster approached its sponsor, Republican Rep. Tom Graves, about taking it over.

While Graves was still sponsor, the bill remained locked without a hearing in committee, but once Shuster took it over, he introduced its revisions on the same day he met with an airline industry supporter of the legislation. A month later he pushed the bill through his panel in about 10 minutes, and it passed the full House just three months later, without so much as a roll call vote.

The bill was a priority for Rubino, the A4A vice president and a top airline lobbyist, and for A4A itself. According to disclosure forms, Rubino herself lobbied for the legislation, and her group spends millions to lobby lawmakers for the airline industry. Meanwhile, Shuster's panel oversees the industry.

Shuster admitted his relationship last week, reports Politico, but when he was pushing the transparency act through Congress, the fact the couple was seeing each other was being kept secret.

Shuster's chief of staff is married to an A4A top executive, and Shuster recently hired one of the company's lobbyists to run his committee's aviation panel.

Shuster's connection with the industry group also showed while he argued for the legislation, he and A4A used almost the same graphics and language when seeking the bill.

Now that a year has passed, Graves said he does not know why the bill was ignored before Shuster took over, but says he was glad to have the Pennsylvania lawmaker's name on it, since he was head of the committee.

A4A was not able to push the bill through the Senate, so now, Shuster is crafting a bill the trade association wants, which would squeeze the law into a Federal Aviation Administration overhaul bill that is coming through the transportation bill.

Shuster has said that Rubino stopped lobbying him and his staff last year, but before that, she was the lead lobbyist for the Transportation Airfares Act. In addition, she is still allowed to lobby the other lawmakers on his committee, even though she and Shuster are openly dating.

But both Shuster and A4A say the relationship and joint work is not improper and does not cross ethical lines.

He is not responding to questions about whether he should keep overseeing the airline industry.

"The chairman has a policy in place that goes above and beyond anything that is required, stating that Ms. Rubino does not lobby the chairman or his staff," said Shuster spokesman Casey Contres, who noted that other interest groups also sponsored the bill.

House Speaker John Boehner also refused to discuss Shuster's relationship but said he is comfortable that proper care has been taken to avoid a conflict of interest.

Further, many House members are saying the Rubino/Shuster relationship is just how Washington can work.

And while the law was progressing, Shuster's marriage was crumbling and ended on Dec. 11. While his wife, Rebecca, was filing divorce papers, Shuster filed a document with his office saying he and Rubino were romantically involved, but it is not clear when their relationship actually began.

A4A spokeswoman Jean Medina denied the relationship influenced her group's lobbying efforts or the bill's success, noting many bills are approved through an accelerated process on the House suspension calendar.

But other groups are calling for Shuster to step down as head of the committee.

"Having the most powerful person in the House on transportation issues going out with someone who is working for the airline industry isn't right," said Charles Leocha, chairman of the consumer group Travelers  United. "This shows such an incredible lack of integrity."
But Connecticut Rep. John Larson, a friend of Shuster's and Rubino's ex-boss, says he does not believe Shuster should stay out of aviation-related issues.

"I've known Shelley Rubino — she graduated from college and came to work for me when I was Senate president in the state of Connecticut," Larson said. "She's got more integrity in her baby finger than most people here collectively have all together."

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The romantic relationship between the head of the House Transportation Infrastructure Committee and a lobbyist for the airline industry, as well as his dealings with her employer, are raising eyebrows on Capitol Hill.
Bill Shuster, Travel Transparency Act, Shelley Rubino
Friday, 24 April 2015 01:25 PM
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