Pennsylvania Rep. Bill Shuster, the Republican head of a powerful congressional transportation panel, insists he’s doing nothing wrong by dating a top airline industry lobbyist whose company has a major interest in how he votes.
That hasn’t stopped a deluge of social media wags from mocking the 54-year-old Blair County, Pa. lawmaker.
“Literally being in bed with special interests is a Shuster family tradition,” a tweet on @Defeat_Shuster declares.
Shuster, like his father Bud Shuster before him, is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The elder Shuster, 83, left Congress in 2001 under an ethics cloud when he let a former top staffer-turned-lobbyist appear before the panel, Politico reports.
Politico on Thursday broke the news of Shuster’s relationship with Shelley Rubino of Airlines for America, an airline industry lobby group.
Shuster said in a statement to Reuters that he and Rubino have a "private and personal relationship.”
"My office has in place a policy that deals with personal relationships that cover my staff and myself ...This was created in consultation with legal counsel, and goes further than is required by the law," he insisted.
House ethics rules do not prohibit Shuster from working on issues affecting A4A. Conflict-of-interest rules don’t prohibit family members, including spouses, from lobbying lawmakers, although members are barred from taking action on an issue in which they have a direct financial stake. Other romantic relationships are not addressed in the House Ethics Manual.
Jean Medina, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, told Reuters the group does not comment on the personal lives of its employees.
She said it is not Rubino but the group's chief executive, Nick Calio, who lobbies Shuster on behalf of the industry.
"A4A ensures all of our advocacy work complies with all lobbying rules," Medina said in an emailed statement to Reuters.
The House committee handles an array of issues related to the airline industry and recently conducted a hearing on revamping air traffic control at the Federal Aviation Administration, the industry's regulator.
Shuster came to Congress in 2001 and since then has served on the transportation panel, according to his website. Rubino's LinkedIn profile says she joined the airline group in 2012 and previously was a Democratic congressional staffer.
Follow Metro Editor-at-large John A. Oswald on Twitter - @nyc_oz.