Congress Delivers on Lobbying and Ethics Reform!

Finally – real ethics reform passed in Congress!  Yesterday the Senate approved S. 1 – the “Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007” – with a veto-proof majority of 83 to 14. On Tuesday, the House also passed the bill with flying colors by 411 to 8.

This terrific legislation will give the public important new information about the cozy relationships between industry lobbyists and members of Congress, and limit the outrageous gifts and travel junkets that laid the groundwork for the culture of corruption on Capitol Hill.   

Today marks the final chapter of a long struggle. We first kicked off the drive to fix Capitol Hill over three years ago. Back then, our “wish list” of reforms was largely ignored by members of Congress and the media – even laughed at as a political impossibility. Then Jack Abramoff’s world – and that of many prominent members of Congress – started to unravel. 

As the investigations into kickbacks and bribes became indictments, our call for reform – and the increased public disgust with Washington – became more and more difficult to ignore. When Abramoff worked out a plea deal in January 2006 to name those whom he bribed to the FBI, you’d have thought the gig was up. But the leadership of the 109th Congress burrowed into the warm sand like ostriches and ignored the need for reform.  In return for their indifference, the voters changed up the Congress in 2006, citing corruption as a top concern.

But institutional change is hard even for a Congress elected on a promise to “end the culture of corruption.” As the bill moved forward, the “K Street” crowd lobbied hard, warning members not to bite the hands that keep lawmakers fat and happy. Public Citizen’s activists did not back down, sending thousands of faxes, emails and making hundreds of call to the Hill to tell Congress it must see this through. 

The final legislation includes a large number of new lobbying laws

and ethics rules that will open the books on the often corrupting nexus

between lobbyists, money and lawmakers. It also imposes a series of new

ethics restrictions to keep Congress more honest and open.

Here are some of the hard-won reforms that we all won together:

  • Requires more of the money trail on the Internet:

    Lobbyist fundraising for lawmakers, including direct campaign

    contributions, bundled contributions and the hosting of fundraising

    events will be posted on the Internet.

  • Slows the revolving door between Congress and K Street: The

    bill extends the cooling off period for senators from one year to two,

    and requires all members to publicly disclose any job negotiations

    while serving in Congress.

  • Lobbying revealed online:  Lobbyists must report their

    lobbying activities every three months in an electronic format, to be

    immediately posted on the Internet.

  • No more goody bags: The bill bans all gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers and their staff.
  • No more golf trips to Scotland: The bill ends the

    congressional travel junkets by:  1) Prohibiting any organization that

    employs a lobbyist from sponsoring trips for members longer than

    one-day; 2) requiring pre-approval and disclosure of all trips on the

    Internet; 3) restricting the use of private corporate jets to fly

    members around the globe; and 4) prohibiting lobbyists from going along

    on any of these trips.

  • Earmarks in the sunlight: The bill requires disclosure of

    the sponsor and recipient of earmarks to be posted on the Internet 48

    hours before final approval of appropriations to tax bills, and allows

    any senator to remove an earmark “air-dropped” into a conference report

    by a point of order challenge.

  • The party’s over: The bill prohibits on members of Congress attending lavish parties sponsored by lobbyists at the national party conventions.

We should all be pleased – this long, hard fight produced real

change.  We commend the leadership in Congress on this bold step to

curb corruption – Speaker Pelosi, Representative Van Hollen, and

Senator Feingold in particular took the concerns of Americans to heart

and in hand. 

But most of the thanks is due to the many people for their thousands

of e-mails, calls and meetings with members of Congress.  We would not

be celebrating this victory for reform without the people-powered

politics behind the call for change.

See how your representative and senators voted on the bill and call them to express your thanks or disappointment. (Find the phone numbers of your representative and senators, or call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-225-3121.)

What do you think about this victory? Do you have an interesting

battle story from this fight for real reform? Let us know with a

comment below.