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Reform Groups to Congress: Steer Clear of Lobbyist-Funded Parties Held for You at the National Conventions

Conflicting Guidelines by Ethics Committees Cause Confusion

 WASHINGTON, D.C. – Members of Congress who attend the national nominating conventions should steer clear of lobbyist-funded parties held in their honor because it would violate new ethics rules, eight reform groups said in a letter sent today to lawmakers.

 The warning was spurred in part by differing guidance provided by the House and Senate ethics committees.

 The organizations that signed the letter are: the Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, Public Citizen, Sunlight Foundation and U.S. PIRG.

 Following the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandals that gave rise to the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, Congress adopted a series of important lobbying and ethics reforms. One new rule prohibits lobbyists and lobbying organizations from paying for parties at the national conventions that “honor” members of Congress.

 The rule is not widely known among lobbyists, some of whom may still plan to throw such parties. Because compliance with congressional ethics rules is largely up to the members themselves, reform groups believe it important to remind Congress of their existence.

 The letter notes that some confusion exists within Congress as to the ethics rules:

“[C]onflicting interpretations of the new rules between the House and the Senate – with the House ethics committee offering guidance that runs directly counter to the intent of the rules – has created confusion among lobbyists, lawmakers and staff as to what is permissible. … The House guidance exempts lobbyist-sponsored parties that honor a group of Members, such as a House delegation, House committee or House caucus.”

Meanwhile, the Senate guidance clearly covers lobbyist-sponsored parties that honor groups of lawmakers.

 The reform organizations strongly encourage members of the House and Senate to abide by the full spirit and letter of the ethics rules by not attending any lobbyist-sponsored parties held to honor any member or groups of members.

 The letter concludes with additional reminders that such parties will be closely monitored by the public and press, and that any violations of the ethics rules likely will be widely covered by the media.
The letter from the reform groups to Congress is available at
http://www.citizen.org/documents/convention-letter-2012-house.pdf .

The House Ethics Committee guidance on the conventions is available at http://www.citizen.org/documents/house-convention-guidance-2012.pdf.

The Senate Ethics Committee guidance is available at http://www.citizen.org/documents/senate-convention-guidance-2012.pdf

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