Reform Groups Urge Senators to Support Key Strengthening Amendments to Ethics and Lobbying Bill

January 12, 2007



Reform Groups Urge Senators to Support Key Strengthening Amendments to Ethics and Lobbying Bill

Enclosed for your information is a letter reform groups sent today urging Senators to support a series of key amendments to the Reid-McConnell substitute to strengthen the ethics and lobbying bill now pending before the Senate.

The reform groups also urged Senators to oppose the Bennett amendment which would strike from the Reid-McConnell substitute a key lobbying disclosure provision that would require professional ''Astroturf'' lobbying firms, and organizations that already report under the lobbying laws, to report the amounts they spend to conduct ''Astroturf'' lobbying campaigns.

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

Dear Senator,

Our organizations strongly urge you to support a series of key amendments to the Reid-McConnell substitute, as set forth below, to strengthen the ethics and lobbying bill now pending before the Senate.

We also strongly urge you to oppose the Bennett amendment which would strike from the Reid-McConnell substitute a key lobbying disclosure provision that would require professional ''Astroturf'' lobbying firms, and organizations that already report under the lobbying laws, to report the amounts they spend to conduct ''Astroturf'' lobbying campaigns.

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

At the outset, we want to again express our support for the Reid amendment to the Reid-McConnell substitute.

The Reid amendment contains essential ethics reforms that would establish new restrictions on lobbyists and lobbying organizations paying for trips and gifts, including meals and entertainment, provided to Senators and staff, and would require Senators to pay charter fares, not first-class fares, for the use of corporate planes.

We urge you to vote for the Reid amendment and to oppose weakening amendments to any of the provisions in the Reid amendment.

Disclosure of Contributions ''Bundled'' by Lobbyists and Lobbying Organizations

Our organizations urge you to vote for the Obama-Feingold amendment to require that lobbyists and lobbying organizations disclose on their lobbying disclosure reports, the candidates, leadership PACs, or political parties for whom they collect or arrange contributions, and either the aggregate amount of the contributions they collect or arrange, or a good faith estimate of the amount.

This is essential information that is directly related to the lobbying activities being conducted in Congress by lobbyists and lobbying organizations and to which the public is clearly entitled as relevant lobbying information. There is currently no required disclosure of this information.

A lobbyist, for example, can contribute a total of $4,200 to a Senator for a Senate race, but the lobbyist can provide far more ''bundled'' or arranged contributions 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 and the total amount raised.

The public is entitled to know as basic and essential lobbying information the total amount of contributions that a lobbyist or lobbying organization collects or arranges for a Senator, presidential candidate or other federal candidate. This should include the amounts raised at fundraising events and the contributions provided or ''bundled'' by a lobbyist or lobbying organization for federal officeholders and candidates, leadership PACs and political parties.

Disclosure of ''Astroturf'' Lobbying Campaigns

Our organizations urge you to oppose the Bennett amendment which would strike a key disclosure provision currently contained in the Reid-McConnell substitute to require professional ''Astroturf'' lobbying firms, and organizations already registered and reporting under the lobbying laws, to report the amounts they spend to conduct ''Astroturf'' lobbying campaigns.

''Astroturf'' lobbying campaigns involve paid media, phone bank, direct mail and other paid public communication campaigns to urge the general public to lobby Congress on legislation. Currently the huge amounts spent on these lobbying campaigns are not disclosed.

The ''Astroturf'' disclosure provisions would require professional ''Astroturf'' lobbying firms to register and report the total amounts they receive to conduct ''Astroturf'' lobbying campaigns, and would also require lobbying organizations already registered under the law to report the aggregate amount they spend on ''Astroturf'' lobbying efforts, if the amount spent is significant -- more than $25,000 per quarter.

The disclosure provision would not apply to any individual or organization that is not otherwise required to register and report as a lobbyist or lobbying organization, other than currently unregistered professional ''Astroturf'' lobbying firms.

The provision also would not require registered lobbying organizations to report any of the money they spend to communicate with their own members urging them to lobby Congress (traditional grassroots lobbying campaigns).

Instead, the disclosure provision would apply only to money spent by professional ''Astroturf'' lobbying firms and by registered lobbying organizations on paid media and other public communication campaigns to urge the general public to lobby Congress on legislation (professional ''Astroturf'' lobbying campaigns).

The Supreme Court has long made clear that disclosure of grassroots lobbying activities is constitutional and serves important governmental interests.

In U.S. v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612 (1954), the Court approved an earlier lobbying disclosure scheme which included not only direct communications to Congress but also ''artificially stimulated letter campaign[s]'' to influence legislation. The Court cited legislative history that described these efforts as by those ''who do not visit the Capitol but initiate propaganda from all over the country, in the form of letters and telegrams . . .'' 347 U.S. at 620 n.10. The Court said that disclosure of these efforts is a form of ''self-protection'':

Present day legislative complexities are such that individual members of Congress cannot be expected to explore the myriad pressures to which they are regularly subjected. Yet full realization of the American ideal of government by elected representatives depends to no small extent on their ability to properly evaluate such pressures. . . .

Toward that end, Congress has not sought to prohibit these pressures. It has merely provided for a modicum of information from those who for hire attempt to influence legislation or who collect or spend funds for that purpose. It wants only to know who is being hired, who is putting up the money, and how much. . . .Under these circumstances, we believe at Congress. . .is not constitutionally forbidden to require the disclosure of lobbying activities. 347 U.S. at 625.

The ''Astroturf'' lobbying disclosure provision is essential to provide the public with information citizens have the right to know about lobbying activities being conducted to influence Congress.

''Earmark'' Disclosure by Lobbyists and Lobbying Organizations

Our organizations urge you to vote for an amendment to require lobbyists and lobbying organizations to disclose the earmarks they are seeking, the clients for whom they are seeking the earmarks and the congressional sponsors of the earmarks.

Reform efforts to address the growing problem with earmarks in Congress have focused in the past on transparency and accountability in Congress. This has included making known to the public and members of Congress the congressional sponsors of earmarks.

It is similarly very important for lobbying disclosure reports to provide the public with information on the earmarks being sought by lobbyists and lobbying organizations and the congressional sponsors of these earmarks.

This would allow the public to determine in one place all of the earmarks being pursued in Congress by a lobbyist or lobbying organization and the Members who are sponsoring these earmarks. It would provide the public with information that currently is not disclosed and that is not provided by other earmark reform proposals in Congress.

Prohibit Lobbyist-Funded Parties to ''Honor'' Members

Our organizations urge you to vote for an amendment to prohibit lobbyists and lobbying organizations from paying for parties to ''honor'' Members at the national conventions.

A major loophole in the current gift rules allows lobbyists and lobbying organizations to pay unlimited amounts for parties to ''honor'' a member of Congress.

Under this loophole, if a ban on gifts from lobbyists and lobbying organizations is adopted, a lobbyist or lobbying organization would be prohibited from spending $25 to pay for a Senator's lunch but the same lobbyist or lobbying organization could spend $25,000 or $50,000 to pay for a party for the same Senator.

The worst abuses of this indefensible loophole occur at the national party conventions, where lavish parties are, in effect, given by Senators, and financed by lobbyists and lobbying organizations. Often these parties involve industries paying for expensive events held to honor a Committee Chairman or other powerful Senator with jurisdiction over legislation being pursued by the lobbyist or lobbying organization.

We urge you to support an amendment to close this major loophole in the gift rules.

Strengthen the Revolving Door Restrictions

The Reid-McConnell substitute increases the period in which Members are prohibited from lobbying their former colleagues for pay from the current one-year restriction to two years.

Our organizations urge you to support an amendment to expand the scope of the coverage of this revolving door prohibition to include all lobbying activities to influence Congress, not just direct lobbying contacts.

The revolving door provisions prohibit members of Congress from having direct lobbying contacts with Congress for pay for a period of time after they leave their jobs. The provisions, however, allow Members to engage in all other lobbying activities to influence Congress for pay during this period, including planning and directing lobbying campaigns, and participating in lobbying strategy sessions.

This means that for all practical purposes Members can undertake for pay extensive lobbying activities to influence decisions in Congress, despite the fact that the purpose of the revolving door provisions is to establish a ''cooling off'' period between the time a Member leaves Congress and the time the Member lobbies Congress for pay.

In order to make the ''cooling off'' period effective, all lobbying activities by a Member for pay should be prohibited for two years.

Require Electronic Filing of Senate Reports

Our organizations urge you to support an amendment to require that Senate candidates file their campaign finance reports electronically.

Because it has failed to do this, the Senate is literally keeping the public in the dark about information which is supposed to be made available to the public in a timely and easily accessible manner. There is no justification for failing to require electronic filing of these reports. This is a non-controversial amendment that should be adopted unanimously and that is unrelated to substantive campaign finance issues to be considered later in this Congress.

In conclusion, we urge you to vote for the strengthening amendments set forth above and to oppose the Bennett amendment to kill the disclosure requirements for ''Astroturf'' lobbying campaigns.

Campaign Legal Center

League of Women Voters

Common Cause

Public Citizen

Democracy 21

U.S. PIRG


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