House passes two lob­by­ing re­form bills

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Christina Bellantoni

The House on May 24 over­whelm­ingly passed two mea­sures tough­en­ing lob­by­ing rules and at­tempt­ing to shed light on the way Congress does busi­ness, with mem­bers from both par­ties say­ing they must re­store the pub­lic’s trust in Wash­ing­ton.

The bills re­quire lob­by­ists and po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees to re­veal the names of cam­paign donors they col­lect money from and “bun­dle” in one check for law­mak­ers — a prac­tice that some­times pro­vided anonymity — and calls on lob­by­ists to file fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sures more fre­quently.

Democrats hailed the mea­sures, which must be rec­on­ciled with a stronger Se­nate ver­sion, as build­ing upon the rules they im­ple­mented when they took con­trol of Congress in Jan­uary, in­clud­ing a ban on lob­by­ists buy­ing gifts, meals or travel for law­mak­ers.

“This lead­er­ship has come to power [. . .] asked by the Amer­i­can pub­lic to take us in a new di­rec­tion, a di­rec­tion that de­mands trans­parency for our peo­ple and ac­count­abil­ity for our mem­bers and those who would seek to in­flu­ence pol­icy,” said Ma­jor­ity Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Mary­land. “It is a good day for ac­count­abil­ity, trans­parency and hon­esty in gov­ern­ment.”

The over­all lob­by­ing bill passed on a bi­par­ti­san 396-22 vote. The bundling bill passed 382-37.

TheSe­natepassed­it­sown­lob­by­ing mea­sure in Jan­uary. The plans must be rec­on­ciled in a con­fer­ence com­mit­tee be­fore a bill can be sent to Pres­i­dent Bush for his sig­na­ture. Democrats said the bills will be sent “im­me­di­ately” to con­fer­ence and they be­lieve it “will re­main largely in­tact.”

Sens. Russ Fein­gold of Wis­con­sin and Barack Obama of Illi­nois, Democrats who are main spon­sors of their cham­ber’s lob­by­ing re­form, praised the “bundling” pro­vi­sions but were­crit­i­calthattheirver­sion’sbanon sub­si­dized­pri­vate­jet­trav­el­was­not­in­cluded in the House bill.

They added a strong ethics bill will “change Wash­ing­ton from a place that’s only open to those with the cash and con­nec­tions to one that rep­re­sents the voices and votes of ev­ery sin­gle Amer­i­can.”

Amongth­e­p­ro­vi­sion­sintheHouse bill are in­creas­ing the num­ber of re­ports lob­by­ists must file on their con­tri­bu­tions and ac­tiv­i­ties. Lob­by­ists must also dis­close do­na­tions to char­i­ties run by law­mak­ers.

There­portswill­be­poste­dontheIn­ter­net to a search­able data­base.

Law­mak­ers must dis­close any ne­go­ti­a­tions they are hav­ing with fu­ture em­ploy­ers, and must ex­cuse them­selves from any bills that re­late to that em­ployer.

The mea­sure would al­low a judge to dou­ble the crim­i­nal sen­tence for pub­lic of­fi­cials con­victed of bribery, fraud or ex­tor­tion.

The bill keeps in place the re­quire­ment that mem­bers and staffers who leave Capi­tol Hill to be­come lob­by­ists must wait one year be­fore they can lobby their for­mer col­leagues on an is­sue.

Watch­dog groups had wanted the House to adopt the Se­nate’s pro­vi­sion tha­tex­tend­edthe­ban­tot­woyears,say­ing the longer time would curb the in­flu­ence lob­by­ists have on leg­is­la­tion.

Both Democrats and Repub­li­cans saidtheJack­Abramof­flob­by­ingscan­dal se­ri­ously cor­roded the Amer­i­can pub­lic’s opin­ion of Congress.

“The Amer­i­can peo­ple de­serve a gov­ern­ment that op­er­ates in the sun­light not in the shad­ows,” said Rep. La­marSmithofTexas,ther­ank­ingRepub­li­can on the Ju­di­ciary panel.

Re­form is an “ab­so­lute ne­ces­sity,” agreed fresh­man Rep. Zack Space, Ohio Demo­crat elected in Novem­ber to re­place Bob Ney, who is serv­ing jail time for cor­rup­tion.

Mr. Space had some reser­va­tions the bill could be stronger, but said it re­flects a “se­ri­ous ef­fort” to “clean up Wash­ing­ton.” “It is im­per­a­tive we break this cy­cle of de­ceit,” he said.

Repub­li­cans were suc­cess­ful in mak­ing two ma­jor changes to the lob­by­ing bills — re­strict­ing gifts from pub­lic lob­by­ists such as those work­ing for ma­jor state univer­si­ties or hos­pi­tals and forc­ing po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees to dis­close their small donors who are in­cluded in “bun­dled” con­tri­bu­tions.

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