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Pending Lobbying Reform Bills Could Have Helped Prevent the Jack Abramoff Scandal, Public Citizen Analysis Shows

Jan. 6, 2006

Pending Lobbying Reform Bills Could Have Helped Prevent the Jack Abramoff Scandal, Public Citizen Analysis Shows

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The influence-peddling scandals of felon and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff have cast a pall over Capitol Hill and brought the integrity of the federal government into question. But corruption by lobbyists and lawmakers does not begin or end with Abramoff; it is a systemic problem. Lobbying today is essentially legalized bribery.

Abramoff was an aberration only to the degree to which he engaged in outright bribery and the number of means he employed.

Several lobbying reform bills have been introduced in Congress. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) and Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) have written separate measures that would enhance much-needed lobbying disclosure and regulate the conduct of lobbyists. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) have introduced similar measures that focus on enhancing disclosure more than regulating the behavior of lobbyists.

The question keeps arising: Would their proposals change the system in Washington, not only to prevent an Abramoff-type scandal but to change the fundamental nature of the beast?

Public Citizen has prepared a detailed analysis of these bills which shows that taken together, they could have had a significant impact on preventing many of Abramoff’s most egregious abuses. But they also clearly do not go far enough in fundamentally changing the system. There are five key requirements to accomplish that, which these bills meet to varying degrees:

  • Enact public financing of elections to remove special interest money from the system. Barring that, ban lobbyists from contributing to those whom they lobby, bundling campaign contributions from friends and colleagues, and organizing fundraising events.
  • Make it harder for public officials and staff to pass through the revolving door – either from government service to the private sector or vice versa.
  • Ban all privately funded travel for lawmakers, staff and federal officials, whether lobbyists attend the events or not.
  • Enact an iron-clad ban on all gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers.
  • Establish an independent ethics watchdog in Congress with significant powers that will not be stymied by partisanship and that has the resources to enforce the laws.