Edit Memo: Senate Republicans Poised to Kill Strong Ethics and Lobbying Reform Bill

Last November, American voters were dissatisfied at the corruption they saw in Congress. Because of their ethical abuses, Members were being investigated, convicted, resigning and even having their offices searched. The voters decided they had seen enough, and voted for change. The public desire to end the corruption in Congress was one of the strongest motivations for the election results, rivaling public concern over the Iraq war, exit polling showed.

Earlier this month, the House responded to that concern by approving a package of strong ethics reforms. The Senate followed suit with debate on a bill that contained the strongest lobbying and ethics reforms since those enacted in the wake of Watergate. By large, bipartisan margins, the Senate approved amendments that:

denied federal pensions to members of Congress convicted of crimes like bribery, conspiracy and perjury;

required members of Congress to pay full market price, instead of first-class airfare, for trips they take on corporate jets;

toughened penalties for lobbyists who did not properly follow disclosure requirements;

prohibited lobbyists and their employers from throwing lavish parties honoring members at party conventions, and

required the Senate to publicly disclose who sponsored an “earmark” – federal spending inserted into a bill without consideration by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The bill also inserted far more sunshine into lobbyist reporting, requiring that they file their reports quarterly, rather than twice a year, and file them electronically, with all that information publicly disclosed on the web in a searchable database.

But the night of January 17, ethics reform was stopped dead in its tracks. That is when 45 Senate Republicans turned their back on these strong reforms and voted to stop the bill when they failed to get an unrelated amendment into the bill on a presidential line-item veto.

The vote was the handiwork of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, and a staunch opponent of campaign finance, ethics and lobbying reform. Surprisingly, he was assisted by supporters of reform, including Sens. John McCain, R-AZ, and Susan Collins, R-ME, who have previously led the fight for lobbying and ethics reforms in Congress. Two Republican senators voted to proceed with the ethics bill, Sens. Gordon Smith of Oregon and Norm Coleman of Minnesota.

By their votes last night, these 45 Senate Republicans are giving a nod to the corrupt practices the American public told Congress to stop. Unless they switch their vote in the Senate this afternoon, they are fully responsible for killing this strong package of ethics and lobbying reforms and for allowing the practices of corrupt lobbyists like Jack Abramoff to continue.

Common Cause continues to support the strong reforms included in ethics package and urges Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid to continue his efforts to push this strong ethics package to a vote.