Cox, whose district falls close to Yosemite, had his staff request two parking passes for a personal visit to the park. At the time, people could request one of 340 tickets available. Tickets were given on a lottery basis.
Emails obtained by the Washington Examiner show National Park Service staff made it clear that they do not provide preferential treatment for members of Congress. The only time members of Congress are allowed to obtain tickets outside of the public allotment are if they are visiting in an official business capacity, not as someone trying to visit the park.
“Due to the personal nature of this visit, we are unable to honor your request,” Teresa Austin, Deputy Superintendent of Yosemite, told Cox’s staff.
When Cox’s staff asked for a reason, Austin had to get higher-ups involved.
According to Matthew Bigelow, the Associate Ethics Counsel for the National Park Service, the agency has a very clear policy on these types of scenarios.
“As far as ethics analysis is concerned, employees shall not use government property, or allow its use, for other than authorized purposes. … Authorized purposes are those purposes for which the Government property is made available to members of the public or those purposes authorized in accordance with law or regulation,” Bigelow wrote in an email to Cox’s staff.
Because Cox was wanting to visit on a national holiday and not in a business capacity, it was clear to Bigelow this was a personal trip.
After Austin’s call with Cox, the trip was changed from “personal” to “business.”
The preferential treatment has Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), the head of the House Western Caucus, wanting the Department of the Interior to investigate.
“Use of one’s status as a Member of Congress in an attempt to influence an Executive Branch employee to acquire preferential treatment for personal gain is a breach of that public trust,” Gosar wrote in his letter to the Interior Department on Aug. 3.
Cox used his position to pressure the NPS to give him access to the park despite this being a personal trip on a holiday.
“Subsequent telephone interviews with Yosemite Park Service staff indicate that Representative Cox’s call resulted in pressuring the National Park Service staff to change the request from personal to professional and grant him passes. National Park Service staff indicate this was done due to his status as a member of the Natural Resources Committee and to film a video to accompany the Great American Outdoors Act,” Gosar said. “However, nowhere in any of Representative Cox’s official active media streams are pictures, video or professional recognition that he attended any events or visited Yosemite over the 4th of July. In fact, since July 4th , there is no reference to Representative Cox’s official attendance at Yosemite on at all.”
Cox did, however, share a video from Yosemite back in June about the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act.
Talk about rules for thee but not for me.