House transportation chair hasn't considered recusal from aviation work after dating lobbyist

WASHINGTON – The chairman of the House transportation committee on Tuesday said he never considered recusing himself from the panel’s work on aviation legislation after he began dating a top airline industry lobbyist.

GOP Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania said he’s been “transparent” about the relationship begun last summer with Shelley Rubino, a vice-president for global government affairs at Airlines for America, a trade association for major U.S. airlines. He pointed to rules put in place in his office that bar her from lobbying him or his staff, describing them as going beyond House ethics rules to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

“It’s a personal and private relationship, but I think I’ve gone above and beyond what the rules require, and what the law requires, to make sure that we’re doing things appropriately,” he said at a National Journal event.

Shuster, who is divorced, said people in Washington know his “integrity level.” He said he believes when a bill is passed later this year to fund the Federal Aviation Administration, everyone involved will walk away calling it a “pretty good” deal.

He confirmed his relationship earlier this month with Rubino after it was first reported by Politico.

Under the rules put in place by Shuster, Rubino still may lobby other members of the House transportation committee on behalf of Airlines for America. A spokeswoman for the association, Jean Medina, has said its president and CEO, Nick Calio, is the chief person who lobbies Shuster for the organization. Calio “has a longstanding relationship with Chairman Shuster, as he did with his father before him,” she said.

Shuster also recently hired Chris Brown, the trade association’s vice-president for legislative and regulatory policy, to be staff director on the subcommittee that is writing the FAA bill.

Among the issues the bill is expected to deal with are the agency’s plans to modernize the nation’s air traffic control system. Lawmakers are also examining whether operation of that system should be removed from the FAA and placed under the control of a private or non-profit company. The airline industry is supporting that concept. In some countries, that model gives airlines a more direct role in how air traffic operations are run.