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Public Citizen Urges House Ethics Task Force To Adjust Recommendations to New Ethics Reality

Aug. 1, 2007

Public Citizen Urges House Ethics Task Force To Adjust Recommendations to New Ethics Reality

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a letter sent today to the House Task Force on Ethics Enforcement, Public Citizen called upon lawmakers to propose fundamental reforms commensurate with the new lobbying and ethics law expected to pass Congress this week, rather than merely tinker with the existing failed system of ethics enforcement.

On Thursday, the Senate is expected to approve a new system of lobbying laws and congressional ethics rules. In a related move, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) created a task force several months ago to study how best to enhance monitoring and enforcement of lobbying laws and ethics rules. The task force, chaired by Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), is expected to make its recommendations shortly after passage of the new lobbying law.

“With the transformative changes in lobbying and ethics laws, it is absolutely imperative that the task force look forward, not backward, in tackling ethics enforcement flaws,” said Laura MacCleery, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Task force recommendations that merely tinker with ethics enforcement and don’t address the glaring problems would now look so 2006.”

In the letter, Public Citizen points out that the new lobbying law will require important new duties on the part of the congressional ethics committees. Some of these duties, such as developing a centralized database of lobbyist financial reports and congressional ethics records, overlap with the duties of the clerk of the House and secretary of the Senate. Adopting Public Citizen’s recommendations would vastly increase the efficiency of carrying out these new duties by consolidating some of the responsibilities within the ethics committees.

Public Citizen calls on the task force to propose:

  • A centralized system for collection of publicly searchable lobbyist activity and congressional ethics records; 
  • Greater staffing and resources for the House ethics committee, so that it can provide current and former members of Congress, congressional staff and lobbyists with reliable advice – something the Senate also should adopt; and
  • A nonpartisan, professional enforcement staff or panel that is reasonably independent and can properly handle enforcement investigations.

“Lobbyists will also face new reporting requirements and even sanctions for knowing and willful violations of some congressional ethics rules, which is a crucial deterrent in the age of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff,” said Craig Holman, lobbyist for Public Citizen. “Both the Senate and House ethics committees will need to step up to the plate and become far more helpful by providing definitive advice about how members of Congress and lobbyists can comply with the new law.”

READ Public Citizen’s letter.