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Congress Can and Should Stop Industry-Sponsored Boondoggles From Being Slipped Into Bills

Jan. 17, 2007  

Congress Can and Should Stop Industry-Sponsored Boondoggles From Being Slipped Into Bills

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

The oil industry has been raking in record profits over the past few years – $200 billion since January 2005 for the major oil and gas companies.

Why, then, are taxpayers poised to give the industry another billion dollars?

Because lobbyists working on behalf of the industry maneuvered to slip the giveway into the massive 2005 energy bill after the House-Senate conference committee had signed off on it, so no one would notice or have a chance to contest it.

We call on Congress to repeal this ultra-deepwater research subsidy, described in the report we are releasing today. If lawmakers don’t, taxpayers will pay a consortium named the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America, or RPSEA, $375 million over the next decade. The program may receive another $750 million if Congress appropriates the money.

This is not the first time we have seen a corporate giveaway stealthily slipped into a bill in the early hours of the morning. Unless the rules are changed, it won’t be the last.

Because of that, we call for Congress to take a number of steps.

First, Congress should ensure adherence to regular order.

Legislation should be thoroughly discussed and examined, and lawmakers must have time to read bills before a vote. The House has begun to address some of these problems in the new rules package it recently adopted. Among other things, the rules improve the openness and accountability of conference committee practices and require conferees to approve the final version of bills. The Senate is considering a bill that would require conference reports to be available at least 48 hours in advance of a vote. The Senate should look closely at the House measures and similarly ensure that conferees have a chance to vote fully on both the bill and conference report.

Second, Congress should close the revolving door through which government employees pass on their way to lucrative lobbying positions.

The ultra-deepwater provision was ushered into law with the help of two recently departed federal employees. No doubt they were more effective because of the contacts they had cultivated and inside knowledge they accrued while in government positions.

To address this, the time period restricting former government officials from lobbying should be extended from one year to two years, and ex-government employees should be prohibited from lobbying any federal employees – not just their former colleagues – for the duration of the period. The waiting period also should cover all lobbying activities, not just “lobbying contacts.”

Third, Congress should increase disclosure of earmarks.

Although the ultra-deepwater provision called for an “open, competitive process” to select a consortium to manage the program, the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America was clearly the intended beneficiary.

Lobbyists should be required to disclose and describe all earmarks they are seeking, and the definition of “earmark” should be broadened to include all measures that are targeted for specific individuals, organizations, municipalities or other narrow classes of recipients, whether or not a competitive process is called for on the surface of the bill.

Fourth, Congress should institute a system to publicly fund congressional campaigns.

The ringleaders of the effort to insert the ultra-deepwater provision into the final energy bill were heavily financed by companies that now make up the consortium’s membership. This makes corruption inherent and creates an appearance that the more money an industry throws at lawmakers, the more often the industry gets what it wants.

A public funding system would pay for itself many times over by preventing boondoggles like the one described in this report. Full public funding for congressional elections would cost about $1.3 billion per two-year election cycle, less than this one ultra-deepwater provision alone.

Publicly funded elections would break the nexus between campaign money and legislation.  The time to end these insidious and wasteful subsidies is now.