March 2, 2006 

Senate Committee Cripples Effort to Enact Lobbying Reform

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee significantly improved a lobbying disclosure and reform bill today by adding a requirement that major lobbyists disclose the money they spend on grassroots lobbying. But the committee took a giant step backward – crippling the reform effort – by rejecting an independent Office of Public Integrity.

Overall, this measure is insufficient because it focuses on disclosing corruption, rather than deterring it. That’s like tallying the number of people killed in highway crashes instead of making safer vehicles.

The independent Office of Public Integrity is so crucial because it would conduct investigations and make recommendations to the Senate and House ethics committees free of political pressures. It would also regulate compliance with the Lobbying Disclosure Act, which has been subject to little oversight. The ethics committees operate in complete secrecy, so the public has no knowledge of what they do. No decisions were announced by the House or Senate ethics committees in 2005. The executive branch does not self-regulate; rather, it has both independent inspector generals in each agency and an Office of Public Integrity, located in the Justice Department and covering all federal employees. An independent office for Congress must be created.

On the positive side, the committee today required the disclosure of grassroots lobbying – a first – on which lobbyists spend hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Also, importantly, for the first time, lobbyists who violate Senate gift and travel rules would be subject to sanctions under the committee’s measure.

But the Abramoff and other scandals have marred the image of Congress and undermined public confidence in the ability of Congress to police itself. To address this, the Senate next week must enact a comprehensive reform package that: 1) creates an independent Office of Public Integrity; 2) caps lobbyists’ campaign contributions at a low amount; 3) prohibits lobbyists from soliciting, bundling or arranging campaign contributions for candidates and political parties; 4) prohibits lobbyists from serving on lawmakers’ fundraising committees or serving as campaign treasurers; 5) prohibits former members of Congress from both lobbying former colleagues and directing lobbying activities for two years after leaving office; 6) requires the disclosure of the dates and names of members of Congress and senior executive branch officials with whom the lobbyist made oral or written communications; and 7) bans corporate-subsidized travel for lawmakers and staff.

Otherwise, we are all just spinning our wheels.

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