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Public Citizen Applauds Proposal for Senate to Bypass Weak Reform Proposals and Unilaterally Pass Its Own Ethics Reforms

June 30, 2006

Public Citizen Applauds Proposal for Senate to Bypass Weak Reform Proposals and Unilaterally Pass Its Own Ethics Reforms

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

    Once again, Public Citizen heartily applauds the ethical leadership of Sens. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Realizing that Congress is unwilling to pass legislation to address serious ethics and lobbying reform this year, these senators have called upon the Senate to approve unilaterally some of the proposed congressional ethics reforms in the stalled lobbying reform legislation as ethics rules for all senators.

    Each chamber of Congress – the House and Senate – may adopt rules of ethical behavior that govern only the members of that chamber, without the rules becoming law. For the Senate, these ethics rules are monitored and enforced by the Senate ethics committee. Violations of ethics rules may draw sanctions ranging from a private letter of reprimand or public admonishment to expulsion from the Senate.

    Earlier this year, the House and the Senate separately approved woefully inadequate lobbying reform bills. But even these insipid bills are now stalled in conference committee.

    The Feingold-Obama Resolution, if passed by the Senate as a rules change for that body, would implement some significant congressional ethics reforms for all senators, including:

  • Prohibiting lobbyists from financing or arranging – or even attending – trips for members of the Senate and their staff;
  • Banning all gifts for senators from lobbyists;
  • Denying floor privileges to former members of Congress-turned-lobbyists;
  • Restricting family members of senators from lobbying that senator’s office; and
  • Requiring senators to fully disclose any negotiations for future private-sector employment.

As both senators recognize, much more needs to be done to clean up Washington, but most of these further actions require legislation rather than rule changes. Sens. Feingold and Obama have pushed for such legislative reforms, and Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Martin Meehan (D-Mass.) have reintroduced many of these reforms in a new House bill (H.R. 5677). To fully address the corruption scandals on Capitol Hill, Congress should pass legislation to:

  • Establish an independent agency to monitor and enforce compliance with federal ethics and lobbying laws;
  • Restrict the role of lobbyists in raising campaign funds for members of Congress; and
  • Slow the revolving door by prohibiting retiring public officials from conducting lobbying activity for two years after leaving office.

    Congress has let the American people down by failing to address head-on the ethics and lobbying abuses that have tragically undermined the credibility of our federal government. Sens. Feingold and Obama have consistently refused to join those who pretend there is no corruption in Congress. These two leaders of congressional ethics and accountability are now boldly asking the Senate to do the right thing, with or without the House of Representatives.