GOP leadership ethics reform bill weak, but other proposals show some Members of Congress ‘get it’

House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-CA) began discussing the long-awaited House Republican leadership’s ethics and lobbying reform package on Wednesday. The Lobbying Transparency and Accountability Act contains a few of the most basic reforms, but lacks the critical elements needed for genuine change and falls far short of what it should be.

Common Cause believes that more disclosure for lobbyists, efforts to deal with privately-finance travel, the revolving door and mandatory ethics training, as proposed in the package, may offer marginal improvement to ethics and lobbying systems in Congress that are completely dysfunctional.

But Dreier’s proposal lacks an improved enforcement mechanism, as well as provisions to cut the co-dependent relationship between lobbyists who raise money for Members of Congress, and Members who want to keep their fundraisers happy. We have said from the beginning, many of the excesses seen in the Abramoff scandal were already against the rules. Adding new rules without enforcement would be meaningless.

While the leadership bill reflects a lack of understanding of the need for changing how Washington does business, there are clearly some Members of Congress who do, and we applaud them for starting the conversation about genuine reform.

Reps. Joel Hefley (R-CO) and Kenny Hulshof (R-MO) introduced a proposal that would provide job protection for Ethics Committee members and staff, as well as subpoena power for the committee and more ethics training. All of those reforms are sorely needed, and Hefley, the former chairman of the Ethics Committee, and Hulshof, a former panel member, are uniquely qualified to talk about job protection after House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) fired them both from the Ethics Committee after their involvement in admonishing four times Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) when he was majority leader.

Reps. Greg Walden (R-OR) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) are offering a proposal that would create an independent outside ethics commission, the same concept championed by Common Cause that would free Members from the existing flawed peer review system. In releasing the proposal, Walden and Blumenauer offered an exceptionally honest appraisal of the status quo: “When it comes down to it, we simply don’t have the time or – frankly – the objectivity to provide the necessary oversight of our colleagues,” Walden said in a statement.

Reps. Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Martin Meehan (D-MA) have also proposed an Office of Public Integrity to provide independent, outside enforcement. In the Senate, Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL), Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have also pushed for something similar.

The GOP leadership should take a lesson from all of these Members of both parties whose proposals show that they understand that Americans are fed up with an “anything goes, business-as-usual culture” in Washington.