Reform Groups Call on Senate to Enact Strong Ethics and Lobbying Reforms



Reform Groups Call on Senate to Enact Strong Ethics and Lobbying Reforms

Reform groups sent a letter yesterday urging Senators to adopt strong ethics and lobbying reforms.

The reform groups include the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG.

According to the letter by the reform groups, ''Our organizations strongly urge you to vote for Senate ethics reforms this week that are at least as strong as the ethics reforms adopted last week by the House.''

The letter adds, ''There is simply no basis or rationale for Senators to establish lower ethical standards for themselves than the ethical standards that apply to House Members.''

The letter states, ''Senators should adopt new ethics rules to prohibit lobbyists and lobbying organizations from paying for travel and gifts, including meals and entertainment for Senators and staff.

Lobbyists and lobbying organizations should be subject to sanctions for violating these rules, as Senators and staff would be.''

The letter continues, ''Senators should also adopt new ethics rules to prevent Senators from using corporate jets for official, campaign or personal trips at artificially reduced costs. Senators should either be prohibited from using corporate planes for such trips or should be required to pay full charter rates for the use of corporate jets.''

According to the letter, ''In the end, ethics rules, new or old, will only work if they are properly implemented and enforced. Our organizations strongly believe it is essential to establish a new professional, nonpartisan enforcement entity to help enforce the Senate ethics rules and that such a new enforcement entity is a lynchpin for all the other ethics reforms.''

The letter adds, ''House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made a public commitment that the House will consider a new approach to enforcing the House ethics rules, shortly after a bipartisan task force of Members makes recommendations on such an approach by March 15, 2007.''

The letter states, ''We strongly urge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to make a similar public commitment that the Senate will consider a new ethics enforcement process in March.''

Disclosure by Lobbyists of ''Bundled'' Contributions for Candidates

According to the letter, ''New lobbying law reforms should require lobbyists and lobbying organizations to disclose the numerous ways in which they provide money to assist members of Congress, including the campaign contributions they provide, the fundraising events they hold and the contributions they 'bundle' or arrange for candidates, parties and leadership PACs.''

The letter states, ''A lobbyist, for example, can contribute a total of $4,200 to a Senator, but can provide far more 'bundled' or arranged funds for a Senator -- $25,000, $50,000, or more. Lobbyists have 'bundled' or arranged $100,000 and $250,000 for presidential candidates under systemized fundraising programs that code and disclose to the presidential candidate the lobbyist responsible for raising the contributions received.''

The letter adds, ''The public is entitled to know the extent of the contributions that a lobbyist has provided to a Senator, presidential candidate or other federal candidate. Lobbyists should be required to disclose the fundraising events they hold and the contributions the 'bundle' or arrange, in addition to the contributions they directly make.''

According to the letter, ''New lobbying reforms should also require lobbyists and lobbying organizations to disclose other financial benefits they provide for Members, including the contributions they provide to foundations established or controlled by a Member or Members; the amounts they spend to finance retreats, conferences and other events held by Members; and any other financial benefits they provide to Members.''

Disclosure by Lobbyists of Earmarks They Seek in Congress

The letter states, ''The lobbying reforms should also require lobbyists and lobbying organizations to disclose the earmarks they lobby for, the congressional sponsors of the earmarks; and the clients who are seeking the earmarks.''

The letter adds, ''The public is entitled to know all of the earmarks that a lobbyist or lobbying organization is seeking in Congress and the members of Congress who are sponsoring and pursuing their earmarks.''

Disclosure of ''Astroturf'' Lobbying Campaigns

The letter continues, ''New lobbying reforms also should require professional lobbying firms and registered lobbying organizations to disclose the large amounts they spend on 'Astroturf' lobbying campaigns urging the general public to lobby Congress on specific issues. This lobbying disclosure reform would not in any way restrict any lobbying activities.''

The letter states, ''Today, for example, a professional 'Astroturf' lobbying firm can spend large amounts on a media campaign to stimulate the public to lobby for a tax break for the oil industry, or an advocacy group can spend large sums on a media campaign to stimulate the public to lobby for or against a judicial nominee, without any information being publicly provided on the amounts being spent on these 'Astroturf' lobbying campaigns.''

The letter adds, ''The proposed reform would require professional 'Astroturf' lobbying firms to register and report the amounts they receive to conduct 'Astroturf' lobbying campaigns, and require organizations already required to register under the law to report the aggregate amount they spend on 'Astroturf' lobbying efforts if the spending is substantial -- more than $25,000 per quarter.''

The letter concludes, ''We strongly urge you to vote for strong ethics and lobbying reforms and to oppose any amendments that would weaken these reforms.''

A copy of the letter is available here.


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