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Public Citizen Urges House Judiciary Committee to Move Forward With Strong Lobbying and Ethics Reform Bill

March 1, 2007

Public Citizen Urges House Judiciary Committee to Move Forward With Strong Lobbying and Ethics Reform Bill

Greater Lobbying Disclosure, Independent Enforcement of Rules and Slowing the Revolving Door Are Key

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen today sent a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties – a subcommittee of the House’s Committee on the Judiciary – strongly encouraging the 110th Congress to carry through with its pledge to voters to clean up Washington.

Public Citizen’s comments praised the House and Senate for courageous steps taken so far on lobbying and ethics reforms and urged the Judiciary Committee to produce a reform bill as meaningful as the Senate-approved legislation (S. 1).

“If the new House is serious about breaking the corrupting nexus between lobbyists, money and lawmakers,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, “it must pass legislation that discloses lobbyist campaign fundraising activities, slows the revolving door, reveals the money behind businesses’ phony grassroots lobbying campaigns and creates an independent enforcement entity.”

On the first day of the new Congress, the House passed strong new ethics rules that dealt squarely with the gift and travel abuses that plagued Capitol Hill. The Senate followed suit by approving legislation that also required disclosure of lobbyist fundraising and slowed the revolving door of former officials cashing in on their public service by taking lucrative lobbying jobs in the private sector.

To become final, reform legislation must be approved by the House and agreed to in conference with the Senate, but some members of Congress have quietly indicated that they might be reluctant to enact these reforms.

“Our letter is intended to clarify the need for these reforms,” said Laura MacCleery, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch program. “For example, the Senate measure requiring disclosure when lobbyists bundle campaign contributions is narrowly tailored. It does not mean that lobbyists will need to report routine solicitations. It requires disclosure only when a lobbyist and candidate agree to a system that credits bundled contributions to the lobbyist.”

The Senate bill now pending before the House also contains a bold new restriction on revolving door abuses, which occur when former lawmakers cash in by taking lucrative lobbying jobs immediately after leaving public service. Currently, retired lawmakers must wait one year before they can call their former colleagues on behalf of paying clients but may conduct all other lobbying activities right away, including planning and supervising a lobbying campaign. The Senate bill would prohibit retired members and senior executive branch officials from becoming lobbyists at all for the brief “cooling-off” time period.

“Closing the loophole in the revolving door is falsely touted as depriving former lawmakers of employment. That simply is not true,” said Craig Holman, legislative representative for Public Citizen. “They can join law firms, political consulting firms, write books, give speeches, take any job they want – but they just should not become a paid lobbyist for two years after leaving public service.”

Public Citizen also has called upon the House to: 1) restore a requirement that media consultants disclose who is paying them, and how much, to wage lobbying campaigns directed at the general public to influence legislation, known as “paid grassroots lobbying;” 2) create an independent enforcement agency to monitor compliance with lobbying and ethics laws; and 3) disclose lobbyists’ fundraising activities, including bundling together individual campaign contributions, for members of Congress.

Public Citizen’s comments are available here.