LEGISLATIVE ALERT:House Lobbying Reform Bill to Be Finalized Next Week
Congress Losing Momentum on Crucial Lobbying and Ethics Reforms
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:April 27, 2007
TO: Editorial Board Writers and Editors
FR: The Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Democracy 21,
Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG
RE: Lobbying Reform Bill
Lobbying Reform Proposal To Be Finalized Next Week
Vote Expected Week of May 7th
Next week the House Democratic leadership will be finalizing the lobbying reform legislation to be marked up by the House Judiciary Committee and then sent to the full House of Representatives for a vote the week of May 7. The leadership is currently working to secure support for various provisions that are in jeopardy of being watered down by outright congressional opponents and others just happy with the status quo now that they have returned to power. The reluctance on the part of some legislators is increasing, despite the fact that scandals continue to unwind on Capitol Hill. In recent days, search warrants were executed by the FBI at the private residences of two congressmen and another former congressional staffer pleaded guilty to conspiracy related to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
The leadership is facing growing opposition from a number of Members and is in danger of losing the momentum to live up to campaign promises to "drain the swamp" and clean up Washington. When asked which issue was extremely important to their vote, more voters said corruption and ethics in government than any other issue, including the war in Iraq, according to national exit polls conducted by CNN. Now that they are back in power, many Democratic Members have become increasingly hesitant to make the changes voters demanded in November.
We urge you to editorialize about the need to pass substantive reforms-including the disclosure of bundled contributions from lobbyists-and to encourage your Representatives in Washington to support the effort.
Parallels are beginning to emerge with the 109th Congress in 2006 when Republican leadership promised sweeping reform in the wake of the scandals surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff, former-Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham and others. Waiting several months before considering legislation, Members began to back away from the reforms promised by the leadership. Weak bills were passed by the House and Senate, but the two bills never even reached a House-Senate conference.
The 110th Congress has already passed important ethics reforms in the opening days of this session, when the election results were still fresh in the minds of lawmakers. But nearly six months have passed since Election Day, and lobbying reforms are facing increased resistance.
The waning reform momentum prompted 27 Members of the freshman class of the 110th Congress to take the significant step of writing to the chair of the House Task Force studying ethics enforcement urging him to recommend a more independent and accountable enforcement entity in order to begin restoring public confidence in Congress. These Members believe that corruption in Washington played a significant role in their elections and in the Democratic takeover of Congress. Clearly they are deeply concerned that many of their more seasoned colleagues have lost sight of the vital importance of reform.
Those same freshmen believe that if real reform is not delivered, their seats and their Party's majority may be imperiled in the 2008 elections. House leadership is facing stiff opposition in its attempts to include several important provisions in the bill.
Key Provisions in Jeopardy:
These provisions are supported by a coalition of reform groups including the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG.
Disclosure of Lobbyists' "Bundled" Contributions
The most critical element for this lobbying reform effort is the provision that would require lobbyists to disclose when they "bundle" numerous contributions for a candidate. This practice has begun to draw more and more headlines as presidential candidates have begun enlisting bundlers to collect $1 million dollars or more. On a smaller scale, this is a growing trend in both the House and Senate today, and voters deserve to know who is buying access and influence with candidates. A strong and effective provision was included in the Senate-passed bill, yet is facing stiff opposition in the House. This defining issue will indicate whether Members of Congress are serious about reforming the nation's lobbying laws.
The Senate-passed "bundling" disclosure provision has been introduced in the House by Representatives Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Marty Meehan (D-MA). This "bundling" provision requires lobbyists and lobbying organizations to provide a good-faith estimate of the total amount of contributions the lobbyist has collected or arranged for a federal candidate, leadership PAC or party committee. It is notable that Rep. Van Hollen, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has co-sponsored the bill since he is charged with raising the requisite amount of campaign cash needed for the 2008 congressional elections.
Requiring lobbyists to disclose "bundled" contributions goes to the heart of the public's right to know about the efforts being made by lobbyists and lobbying organizations to influence congressional decisions. Absent such disclosure, a huge loophole exists in the lobbying disclosure law.
Many of the 2008 presidential candidates are choosing to disclose the names of their bundlers, lobbyists or otherwise, but this disclosure is not required. With bundlers corralling upwards of $1 million worth of contributions, as is the case with Senator Clinton's Hillraisers, the disclosure of lobbyist bundlers should be required.
However, there remains stubborn resistance within the Democratic and Republican caucuses in the House and it is unclear at present whether strong bundling language will be included in the leadership bill.
Disclosure of Lobbying Firms Campaigns to Lobby the General Public
Disclosure of paid lobbying firm campaigns to influence constituents to lobby Congress is another issue that has attracted opposition from lawmakers and lobbyists who want what happens in Washington to stay in Washington. Lobbying firms should be required to disclose the total amount they spend on behalf of a client to conduct increasingly sophisticated and expensive communications to influence the general public to lobby Congress. Some of these lobbyist-orchestrated campaigns have run up bills with communications firms totaling tens of millions of dollars without any public disclosure. The leadership is currently undecided about whether to include in the bill they will offer a provision that only applies to lobbying firms retained by a client to influence the general public to lobby Congress. It does not apply to any person or entity other than a retained lobbying firm.
Lobbying firms currently report the total amounts they receive from clients to conduct direct lobbying campaigns on Capitol Hill. The new provision would require lobbying firms to disclose the total amounts they receive from clients to conduct expensive media and other paid communications to influence the general public to lobby Congress.
Slowing the Revolving Door
Former Members of Congress working as Washington lobbyists used to be the exception. Now it is regular practice, with some 200 former lawmakers and literally thousands of former staffers reportedly lobbying Congress. This growing trend highlights the need for strengthened revolving door rules.
The current rules require a one-year "cooling-off" period for Members and senior congressional staff, classified as those making 75 percent or more of a Member's salary, during which time they are prohibited from lobbying their former colleagues. The current cooling-off period should be extended from one to two years, or one full Congress. The Senate passed such a provision in its lobbying reform bill earlier this year.
Current revolving door restrictions for former Members prohibit them from having direct lobbying contact with Congress for one year after leaving office. However, they are still allowed to engage in lobbying activities to influence Congress, including planning and directing lobbying campaigns and participating in lobbying strategy sessions. This creates an easy loophole allowing individuals like former Rep. Billy Tauzin, president and CEO of PhARMA, to direct large lobbying operations in violation of the spirit of the law. The limits on former Members' lobbying efforts should be expanded to include engaging in lobbying activities during the cooling-off period.
Reform coalition groups firmly believe that the issues outlined above are important elements in a lobbying reform bill that can make a dent in the corruption plaguing the nation's capital. As the indictments, convictions and plea bargains mount, Members of Congress continue to point the finger at others. The Senate says it's a House problem, House Democrats say it's a Republican problem, and too many are fighting even common-sense changes. In truth, it is a bipartisan problem. Whether Members will ever admit to that is another question altogether. However, the scandals and the inaction have caused the public to lose faith in the institution of Congress, which makes it every Member's problem.
A statement released by former Representative Bob Ney on the day he was sentenced to serve more than two years in a federal prison speaks volumes about why the system must be changed: "I never acted to enrich myself or get things I shouldn't, but over time, I allowed myself to get too comfortable with the way things have been done in Washington, D.C. for too long."
Thank you for your consideration of this issue, and we sincerely hope you will find both the time and the space to editorialize on the need for a lobbying reform bill to help change the way business is done is Washington. If we can answer any questions, please do not hesitate to call any of us.
Gary Kalman Mary Boyle David Vance
U.S. PIRG Common Cause Campaign Legal Center
(215) 439-7090 (202) 736-5770 (202) 736-2200
Laura MacCleery Elenia Saloutsi
Public Citizen Democracy 21
(202) 454-5130 (202) 429-2008
Office: Common Cause National
Tags: Congressional Ethics
Common Cause is a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process.