Last year, Rep. Bill Shuster approached fellow Republican Rep. Tom Graves with a request. The powerful Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman wanted to take over Graves’ moribund Travel Transparency Act, an industry-friendly bill that would allow airlines to advertise the base price of a ticket without including fees and taxes.
The bill had gone nowhere under Graves (R-Ga.) — it didn’t even muster a hearing in committee. Once the Pennsylvania congressman took over, though, it moved at lightning speed: He introduced a revised version of the bill in March of last year, the same day he met with an airline industry group that supported it. A month later, Shuster shepherded the measure through his transportation panel in roughly 10 minutes. It sailed through the full House three months later without a roll call vote.
The legislation wasn’t only a priority for Shuster: It was a top issue for Airlines for America, and for Shuster’s girlfriend, Shelley Rubino, the organization’s vice president and a top airline lobbyist. Shuster’s panel oversees the airline industry, and Rubino’s group spends millions of dollars lobbying Congress on behalf of major U.S. airlines. Rubino herself lobbied for the legislation, according to disclosure forms.
Shuster’s relationship with Rubino was disclosed last week by POLITICO, but at the time the legislation was going through the House, it was being kept secret. His relationship with her — and his dealings with her employer — have raised new questions about Shuster’s advocacy on behalf of the airline industry. The ties go beyond Shuster and Rubino: The wife of Shuster’s chief of staff is a top executive for Airlines for America, which is known as A4A. And the congressman recently hired an A4A lobbyist to run the committee’s aviation panel.