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Party Time on the Lobbyists’ Dime? Not So Fast

Feb. 4, 2008

Party Time on the Lobbyists’ Dime? Not So Fast

Senate Ethics Committee Rightly Interprets New Ethics Rule to Ban Lobbyist Soirees

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate ethics committee was right to determine today that a new rule banning lobbyists and lobbying organizations from hosting parties at the national conventions that honor a member of Congress means exactly that, Public Citizen said today.

The Senate’s advisory opinion came in the wake of a series of adverse decisions by the House ethics committee that poked loopholes in the new congressional ethics rules.

Among those rules, which were ushered in last summer with great fanfare by the Democratic-controlled Congress, is one that clearly states that lobbyists and organizations that employ lobbyists may no longer pay for lavish parties “honoring a Member of Congress” at the national conventions. The House ethics committee last month determined that this means a lobbyist cannot pay for a party that honors one lawmaker but can pay for a party honoring two or more members, such as a congressional caucus. Today, the Senate ethics committee rightly said that the rule is a straightforward ban on these parties – no matter how many lawmakers are honored. That committee is led by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and ranking member John Cornyn (R-Texas).

“The House ethics committee has a long and sordid history of ignoring and even covering up ethical transgressions,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. “The Senate ethics committee action should now prompt the House committee to follow suit.”

The House ethics committee, led by Chairwoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) and ranking member Doc Hastings (R-Texas), also has come under fire for a decision that weakens the new ban on gifts from lobbyists and lobbying organizations to lawmakers. The committee determined that lobbyists can pay for seats and tables at a charity event and then direct the charity to give the gifts to lawmakers.

“With a green light from the House to ignore the ethics rules, lobbyists and lobbying organizations right now are planning convention soirees and circumventing the gift ban at charity events,” said Craig Holman, lobbyist for Public Citizen. “If the hard-fought ethics rules are to mean anything, the House needs to look for ways to enforce the rules, not eviscerate them.”

Public Citizen calls on Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the House freshmen class, who were the key supporters of the strict new ethics rules, to ensure that the ban on party soirees and lobbyists gifts are fully respected and enforced.

READ the House and Senate ethics committees’ rulings on the party restrictions.