Senate’s response to Abramoff scandal is mostly window dressing

When lobbyist Jack Abramoff admitted four months ago he tried to bribe members of Congress, members of both political parties promised with great fanfare bold reform proposals to clean up Washington. Now, on the very day that Abramoff was sentenced to jail on a separate matter, the Senate passed what could charitably be called a very tepid lobbying and ethics reform bill. The legislation doesn’t come close to restoring the public’s faith in Congress.

“It’s mostly window dressing,” said Common Cause President Chellie Pingree. “When senators go home and explain to their constituents how they’ve responded to the Abramoff scandal, I don’t think this will pass the straight face test. This legislation isn’t going to change the ‘anything-goes,’ pay-to-play environment in Washington, and I don’t think it’s going to change the public’s dismal perception of Congress much either.”

The Senate bill would increase disclosure requirements for lobbyists, but does little to break the connection between lobbyists and campaign fundraising that is a central theme of the Abramoff scandal. It bans gifts from lobbyists, but not from their employers. It increases disclosure about trips members take, but still allows companies to fly members aboard private jets at a fraction of the actual cost. Finally, and most importantly, it does nothing to improve the negligible enforcement of the rules already on the books, despite the best efforts of Senators Barack Obama (D-IL), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Susan Collins (R-ME).

“We had hoped Congress would do more, but this is not over,” Pingree said. “A Justice Department investigation continues into possible corruption by other Members of Congress associated with Abramoff. If they yield results, these reforms approved today will look timid indeed.”