LINCOLN — A Wisconsin watchdog group filed an ethics complaint Tuesday against a Papillion state senator, alleging that he failed to disclose gifts he received on a trip to the tar-sands oil region of Canada.
State Sen. Jim Smith said he expected scrutiny of the trip and had sought, and followed, the advice of Nebraska officials in reporting his expenses.
“It was my understanding we followed that and reported everything properly,” Smith said.
The complaint, filed by the Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal organization, focuses on an October 2012 trip that Smith and eight other American state legislators took to Alberta. The legislators visited tar-sands oil facilities and talked to oil industry officials, including officials of TransCanada Inc., the developer of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
The trip was sponsored by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative organization of state legislators and corporate members.
The Center for Media and Democracy recently reported on the ALEC “Oil Sands Academy” as part of a series of stories critical of the organization, its ties to corporations such as TransCanada and its influence on legislation introduced across the country.
Smith, who is ALEC’s public sector chairman in Nebraska, failed to disclose $1,447 in expenses for an airplane ride from Calgary to the tar-sands oil facilities provided by the Alberta government and an unknown second sponsor, according to the complaint filed with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.
“It seems like there was limited disclosure and transparency,” said Brendan Fischer, legal counsel for the Center for Media and Democracy.
Smith said he had receipts showing that he paid for the airplane flight to Calgary and for hotel accommodations.
He said he was informed by officials with the accountability commission that any flights within Canada during the trip were “incidental” and did not have to be disclosed.
He said he planned to double-check today, in case that was not correct.
Smith’s annual report did not include any expenses related to the trip.
Frank Daley, executive director of the accountability commission, said he could not comment directly on a complaint. But he said a violation of state ethics laws could result in a civil fine of up to $2,000, an order to cease and desist or an order to amend a gift disclosure document.
Lobbying interests, such as TransCanada, are barred by state law from providing gifts, such as plane trips, of more than $50 per month to a state lawmaker.
Smith, who has been a leading supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline, said he backs the “free market” ideals promoted by ALEC.
The proposed Keystone XL, which would travel through Nebraska, would carry oil extracted from tar sands in Canada to refineries in Texas.