Lawmaker Behind Pro-Airline Legislation Admits To Dating Top Airline Lobbyist

Rep. Shuster (PA) acknowledged that he has been dating Shelley Rubino, Vice President, Global Government Affairs at  Airlines for America.

Rep. Shuster (PA) acknowledged that he has been dating Shelley Rubino, Vice President, Global Government Affairs at Airlines for America.

Congressman Bill Shuster from Pennsylvania, the Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the lawmaker behind pro-airline legislation like this 2014 bill to remove any transparency from advertised airfares — and whose top campaign contributors are United and American Airlines — has admitted today to being in a romantic relationship with a top lobbyist for the airline industry.

A lengthy report from Politico shines a light on the too-close-for-comfort relationship of Shuster and Shelley Rubino, VP for global government affairs for Airlines for America (A4A), an industry trade group whose members include the aforementioned United and American, along with other top Shuster donors like FedEx, UPS, and Atlas Air Worldwide.

And when you look at which politicians have most benefited from A4A’s contributions, Shuster is right at the top of the list, at $16,700 for the 2014 election cycle. That’s more than A4A gave to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Not bad for a Congressman who represents a largely rural section of Pennsylvania.

“Ms. Rubino and I have a private and personal relationship, and out of respect for her and my family, that is all I will say about that,” said Rep. Shuster, who was recently divorced, in a statement to Politico.

The Congressman says his office has “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. Under that policy, Ms. Rubino doesn’t lobby my office, including myself and my staff.”

Even if the agreement prevents Rubino from lobbying Shuster directly, she is not prohibited from lobbying the dozens of other members of his powerful committee or their aides.

Legal experts say there is no apparent violation of House ethics rules going on here.

“Absent some exchange of gifts or things that would otherwise be a problem under the rules, I don’t think the mere fact of her relationship with [Shuster] trespasses any other rules, at least none that I know of,” former general counsel for the House explains. “The rules don’t automatically disqualify a spouse from being employed in a trade association that may have interests before the committee.”

While the relationship may not violate ethics codes, it could lead voters and the public at large to question Shuster’s support for pro-airline, anti-consumer legislation.

And the lawmaker’s connection to A4A goes beyond his personal ties to Rubino. As Politico notes, Shuster recently hired the organization’s VP for legislative and regulatory policy as staff director on the Transportation Committee’s aviation subcommittee.

Additionally, Shuster’s personal office chief of staff is married to the Sr. VP of government relations at A4A.

And when you look at the pro-airline rhetoric used by both Shuster and A4A, there is some striking overlap.

Shuster has described commercial air carriers as “the most regulated deregulated industry in America,” and his statements that the government targets airlines for taxes and fees much like it does tobacco and alcohol.

Politico compares this to an A4A press release from just yesterday, in which the trade group writes that “air travel is taxed at much higher rates than other modes of transportation. Aviation’s federal tax rate is higher than that of alcohol or tobacco — products taxed to discourage their use.”

A4A dismisses the coincidence saying it only makes sense that it would use the words of the Transportation and Infrastructure chairman in stating policy.

Shuster is actually a second-generation Congressman whose father, Bud Shuster, also chaired the Transportation Committee.

Nearly 20 years ago, Bud Shuster was himself the subject of a House ethics investigation involving his relationship with aide-turned-lobbyist Ann Eppard. There were accusations that the elder Shuster had accepted gifts and given preferential treatment to Eppard. He ultimately resigned — citing health reasons — in 2001. The younger Shuster won his father’s seat that year in a special election.