Senate Adopts Stronger Ethics and Lobbying Rules; A Significant Step Away from Corruption

Common Cause is encouraged by the US Senate’s overwhelming vote for stronger ethics and lobbying reforms. Last night, the Senate voted 96-2 to approve a bill that will bring the toughest changes in those areas since the Watergate scandals of the 1970s. These reforms will help Congress leave behind some of the corruption that has tainted Capitol Hill.

“In recent years, far too many members have been investigated, convicted or resigned under a cloud of scandal,” said Common Cause President Chellie Pingree, on the same day that former Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) was sentenced to 30 months in jail for his involvement in a federal bribery scandal. “Corruption in Congress was one of the biggest reasons Americans voted for change last fall. We welcome the Senate in its decision to move away from corruption and toward open, ethical government.”

Under the bill approved by the Senate, lobbyists can no longer give senators free meals, gifts and travel. Senators will also pay charter rates for travel on corporate jets, instead of the lower first-class fares they pay now. And senators must wait two years, instead of one, before they can lobby their former colleagues.

The bill also would take pensions away from members convicted of some crimes and requires senators to offer more disclosure for the earmarks they place in bills to fund their pet projects.

Lobbyists must also disclose when they “bundle” campaign contributions from their clients, cannot hire members’ spouses or pay for the parties that take place at the presidential nominating conventions every four years.

The bill could go further. It did not create an outside independent ethics office or commission to investigate ethics complaints or abuses. And the Senate cut out stronger disclosure requirements for grassroots organizations, which was intended to identify special-interest groups that organized fake citizens’ campaigns.

“We like the strong reforms the Senate approved,” Pingree said. “But reforms are not enough. To completely get away from the corruption we’ve seen, Congress must police itself more seriously. The best way to do that is through an independent ethics body within Congress and through public financing of congressional elections. We will continue to push for Congress to adopt these reforms and become the honest and transparent institution Americans deserve.”