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Pelosi Reforms Are Meaningful Step Forward, Show Sincere Effort by Leaders on Ethics

Jan. 3, 2007

Pelosi Reforms Are Meaningful Step Forward, Show Sincere Effort by Leaders on Ethics

Statement of Joan Claybrook, President, Public Citizen

The proposed House ethics rules unveiled today by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and scheduled to be voted on as a first order of business by the 110th Congress are strong and represent a meaningful step forward. The rules include a ban on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and staff, a total ban on use of corporate jets by members, new restrictions on other congressional travel, disclosure of the sponsors of earmarks and a return to democratic procedures in the operation of the House.

This is a big step toward preventing the abuses seen in the last Congress. Public Citizen applauds Speaker Pelosi for this bold first step toward ending the nightmare of ethics scandals on Capitol Hill.

The rules changes impose meaningful new restrictions on congressional travel. Organizations that employ lobbyists cannot arrange or pay for trips longer than one day. Registered lobbyists cannot tag along on trips. Importantly, lawmakers and their staffs cannot travel courtesy of private corporate jets, a perk they love and have often used. The rules also vastly improve disclosure of earmarks by requiring sponsors to identify themselves.

While separate organizations, including those affiliated with lobby groups, are not prohibited by the rules from arranging or paying for trips for lawmakers, all such trips would require prior approval by the ethics committee and would have to be immediately disclosed publicly. This rule should be interpreted by the ethics committee to prohibit lobbying groups from evading the restrictions by funneling money through non-profit organizations. If it is not, we will request further limits.

More importantly, no matter how well the new ethics rules are written, they mean little if no one is assuring compliance. It is imperative that an independent Office of Public Integrity be established to monitor compliance with lobbying and ethics rules, independently investigate potential violations and make recommendations to congressional ethics committees for further action. Speaker Pelosi has said she will create a bipartisan task force to make recommendations by March.

The new ethics rules that Pelosi is introducing show that the 110th Congress is serious about ethics reform, and they offer a good, meaningful first step. The next steps of the new Congress will determine whether this spirit of reform becomes real change.