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Public Citizen Praises Lobbying and Ethics Reform Passed by House of Representatives

July 31, 2007

Public Citizen Praises Lobbying and Ethics Reform Passed by House of Representatives

House Overwhelmingly Approves Landmark Legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen today hailed the House of Representatives’ display of overwhelming support for reining in corruption and scandal on Capitol Hill, evidenced by its 411-8 vote for far-reaching lobbying and ethics reform legislation.

The landmark legislation – which casts sunlight on the financial arrangements lobbyists have with lawmakers, bans gifts from lobbyists, restricts corporate-funded travel for members of Congress and requires disclosure of earmarks – now moves to the Senate for a vote on Thursday. It appears as though the bill is just a few steps away from becoming the law of the land.

But the next step may yet be a large one. Several Republican senators – mainly, Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) – are planning to try to block final passage of the ethics bill, claiming that it does not go far enough in controlling earmarks.

“Last year’s Congress was the worst offender in history in terms of earmark abuse,” said Laura MacCleery, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “And with all the scandals, Republicans had a wide-open opportunity last year to pass a good bill. They blew it. Their latest maneuvers to derail this excellent bill taste strongly of sour grapes.”

“While some Republican senators may earnestly want to improve earmark language, they should be well aware that their actions would provide cover for obstructionists who don’t want any bill at all,” MacCleery added. “If the Senate fails to pass this bill due to Republican objections, you can be sure that the voters will not be kind in 2008.”

The use of earmarks – known as directed congressional spending – spiraled out of control over the past decade, reaching an all-time high in the 109th Congress. The buying and trading of earmarks led to ongoing criminal investigations of several prominent lawmakers and the conviction and imprisonment of one former Republican lawmaker for earmark-related bribery.

The new legislation requires that the congressional sponsor of each earmark be identified along with the recipient, and that this information be posted on the Internet 48 hours before passage of the earmark legislation. Any earmarks not identified or deliberated in committee may be removed by a point of order challenge by any senator.

“Passing tough lobbying and ethics reforms into law has been one long roller-coaster ride,” said Craig Holman, lobbyist for Public Citizen. “We began advocating for these reforms years ago. Previous Congresses appeared to recognize there was a problem, but after each new scandal passed them by, they put the blinders back on. Finally the Congress appears to have seen the light.”