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House Lobbying Plan Is Not Reform at All

March 16, 2006

Statement of Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen

Changes to the lobbying system proposed by U.S. House of Representatives leaders on Wednesday are weak and will do little, if anything, to clean up Washington. By offering token measures that merely require disclosure of campaign contributions and gifts that lobbyists give lawmakers, the House is taking baby steps that will be ineffective in preventing future Abramoff-style scandals. It’s like using a pair of sewing scissors when an industrial-strength buzz saw is needed.

House leaders propose to cut off privately financed travel for lawmakers, but only for the rest of this year. (The moribund House ethics committee – which did virtually nothing in 2005 – would figure out how to handle travel after that.) Lawmakers could still use expensive corporate jets at first-class ticket rates if no registered lobbyist is present. Earmarks would still be permitted, but the sponsors would have to be disclosed and other members could object, although the procedures are still unclear. Further, by including provisions in the bill relating to Section 527 groups, House leaders have inserted a poison pill designed to scuttle the whole thing.

None of the lobbying measures will do what is necessary, which is to cut off the supply of money bundled by or given by lobbyists to lawmakers. As long as the cash flows, the public will always be cut out of the process, and the corporate moneyed interests will always have a louder voice in the halls of Congress. Under the leadership’s proposal, there still would be no effective enforcement of the rules; the House ethics committee could still bury any complaint indefinitely, and the House inspector general would merely have the authority to conduct random audits of lobbyists’ reports.

House leaders are trying to trick voters into thinking that the leadership is addressing the problem. Voters should not be fooled. This is not real reform.

For more information, visit www.CleanUpWashington.org.