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Ney’s Plea Underscores Need for Lobbying Reform, Inadequacy of House of Representatives’ Earmark Disclosure Rules Change

Statement of Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen President

Today’s guilty plea by Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) underscores the desperate need for true lobbying and ethics reform in Congress. After months of denying that he did anything wrong, Ney has finally admitted that he conspired to commit fraud and lied on disclosure forms about gifts he received from indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. It’s about time he came clean.

It’s also time for Congress to clean up its act. More than just violating laws, Ney did something much more damaging to this country and to the institution of Congress: He violated the public’s trust. People elect lawmakers to represent their interests and make laws that fix problems. They don’t send members to Congress to lie, cheat and steal – or to pass laws in exchange for all-expense-paid golf trips to Scotland and concert tickets.

In response to this burgeoning ethics scandal – which has led to the indictment of Abramoff and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, has sent former California Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham to prison and has the FBI closing in on Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson, in whose freezer agents found $90,000 of bribe money – Congress has done little more than talk.

Its only even remotely substantive action came Thursday, when the House passed an earmark disclosure rules change that would require lawmakers to put their names on the giveaways they tuck into legislation as favors to lobbyists and campaign contributors. But the change expires at the end of this congressional session. Further, it would not allow any member to demand a floor vote on a secret earmark added to a bill by a manager’s amendment or in conference committee. In the meantime, watered-down lobbying reform bills have been languishing in a House-Senate conference committee for months with no prospect for action.

This is a slap in the face to the public. Congress is using a small dustpan in the hopes of sweeping corruption under the rug when what is needed is a steam cleaner for the whole room.

Corruption is corrosive to our democracy. How many more members must be behind bars for Congress to act?

Note: To read Public Citizen’s letter to lawmakers about the earmark disclosure bill, click here.

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