An Insider Look at What's Happening on the Hill

Congress’ rush to lobbying reform, which began in earnest after Jack Abramoff’s Jan. 3 guilty plea,is taking shape this week and next in the U.S. Senate. With more than a dozen proposals introduced in Congress, Senate leaders have decided to consolidate the proposals into legislation to be considered on the Senate floor as early as the second week of March. The House, meanwhile, has started    hearings on lobbying reform, but is waiting to see what the Senate does before proceeding further.

On Feb. 28, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee completed mark-up of a package it sent to the floor on a 17-0 vote. The most significant reform addressed earmarks –pet projects often tacked onto legislation in the 11th hour—in appropriations and other bills.

The legislation would also ban all gifts from lobbyists other than meals. It would ban privileges awarded to former members-turned-lobbyists, such as access to the Senate floor. The bill would prohibit members from punishing or rewarding a lobbying firm for hiring based on partisan considerations (which Republicans did with their “K Street Project”), and it would prohibit immediate family of a member from lobbying that member.

The bill proposes an unusual disclosure provision: members would be required to post on their own Web sites any gifts or travel received from lobbyists or other private interests. It would also require itemized reporting by members and congressional staff of any privately funded travel.

On March 2, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee proceeds with its own mark-up, which will focus on a bill submitted by Chairman Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Ranking Member Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.).

The Collins-Lieberman bill    is largely a disclosure-only bill, with few restrictions on the conduct of lobbying. The most significant part is creation of an independent ethics enforcement agency, with the ability to start investigations and make recommendations for final action to the House and Senate ethics committees.