Big ideas win campaigns.
New Speaker-elect Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), has been vocal for weeks about her intentions should the Democrats become the majority in the House, and lobbying and ethics reforms are the first order-of-business on "day one" of the new session. She also promises to set a high bar, saying that "the Democrats intend to lead the most honest, most open, and most ethical Congress in history.” There is now no excuse not to pass real reform.
Pelosi’s bill, H.R. 4682, for the most part, is a very strong bill. It would:
Increase transparency of lobbyists’ activities – enabling searches online showing which lobbyists are talking to which Congressmen;
Slow the revolving door – the time a Representative must wait before becoming a lobbyist is doubled;
Prohibit privately-sponsored travel for members and require detailed itineraries on trips;
Ban gifts from lobbyists to members or staff;
Expose who is putting earmarks in our bills; and
Create an Office of Public Integrity (OPI) to monitor and initiate investigations against lobbyists (but not members of Congress).
(Read the full summary here.)
The bill does lack two key items.
First, the ban on gifts from lobbyists is great but should be applied to everyone else as well. Gift giving has an obviously corrosive effect and must be banned across the board.
Second, we need an OPI for monitoring members of Congress and not just lobbyists. As we have seen in the current Congress, the Ethics Committee is a joke because Congress doesn’t, and probably can’t, do a very good job of policing itself. (Congress: "I told myself to go to my room!") The OPI must be able to monitor and initiate investigations against Congress members and staff about ethics violations.
This Democratic sweep opens up a huge opportunity to change business-as-usual in Washington. These chances, and this momentum for change, must not be squandered on mere half-measures. The American people have said, loudly and clearly, that they want leadership. Democrats must now answer the call.