Congress Is Ignoring at Its Own Risk the Public’s Call to “Clean Up Washington” – Sham Lobbying Reform Bill Fails to Address Any of the Recent Corruption Scandals

May 2, 2006

Congress Is Ignoring at Its Own Risk the Public’s Call to “Clean Up Washington” – Sham Lobbying Reform Bill Fails to Address Any of the Recent Corruption Scandals

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

The so-called lobbying reform bill set for a vote tomorrow on the floor of the House is a fraud on the American public.

After months of working on reforming the way business is done on Capitol Hill, debating reform proposals that would prevent the corrupt practices of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and others, the House of Representatives has finally settled on – ignoring the problems.

The legislation began as a woefully inadequate effort to address the public’s legitimate fears of corruption in government, and it has been whittled down even further by committee actions. To make it very clear that the House intends no sweeping reforms of influence-peddling, a gag rule has been attached to the bill that prohibits consideration of any amendments that could strengthen the legislation. In fact, the only amendments allowed for consideration will weaken the already weak bill even further.

Just to cast a picture of how this bill fails to deal with any of the recent scandals, let’s run through a quick check list of the abuses by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and what H.R. 4975 would do about them:

 

Abramoff Scandal

H.R. 4975 would do:

Abramoff made or arranged about $3.7 million in campaign contributions to office holders and party committees since 2000.

 

Nothing to break the corrupting nexus between lobbyists, money and lawmakers.

Abramoff arranged lucrative fundraising events as a means to influence members of Congress.

 

Nothing to restrict lobbyists from hosting fundraisers to buy favors.

Abramoff routinely provided free meals to members and their staff at Signatures Restaurant, which he owned.

 

Nothing to change the current gift limits.

Abramoff arranged travel junkets for many members and staff, including 85 members and staff to theMariana Islands, and congressional leaders such as Reps. Tom DeLay, Bob Ney and others to golf outings in Scotland and elsewhere.

 

Temporarily suspend travel junkets – but only until after the incumbents have an opportunity to be re-elected at the next election.

Abramoff allegedly offered to employ as a lobbyist Steven Griles, then-deputy interior secretary, and hired former congressional staffers as lobbyists immediately after leaving public service.

 

Nothing to slow the revolving door for members, congressional staff or executive branch officials.

Abramoff had countless secretive contacts with members of Congress and senior staff, and with executive branch officials.

 

Nothing to disclose lobbying contacts.

Abramoff used a grassroots lobbying firm set up by Michael Scanlon to defraud Indian tribal clients and collect kickbacks.

 

Nothing to disclose grassroots lobbying activity.

The House ethics committee has never investigated any allegation of corruption associated with Abramoff.

 

Does not create an independent enforcement office to monitor compliance with the law.

H.R. 4975 does nothing to address the scandals of Abramoff. Worse yet, corruption by lobbyists and lawmakers does not begin or end with Abramoff; it is a systemic problem. There are many more Jack Abramoffs peddling their wares on the Hill.

Lobbyists for Westar Corp. and Freddie Mac, for example, have also made extensive use of fundraising to buy influence – or in the words of the Westar lobbyist, to buy a “seat at the table” – and they are only the tip of the iceberg. Even in the wake of all these lobbying and ethics scandals, the House ethics committee has not investigated these allegations or any of the other scandals associated with Jack Abramoff.

The House must reject H.R. 4975 and instead offer the American public genuine lobbying reform that will prevent similar scandals. The American public will not trust Congress until it responds to these corruption scandals in a sincere and effective way.

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