< /head > Colorado Coalition for Human Rights: Little Progress Made in Lobbying Reform in Congress

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Little Progress Made in Lobbying Reform in Congress

From the New York Times:

Nine months after Congressional leaders vowed to respond to several bribery scandals with comprehensive reforms, their pledges have come to next to nothing.

On Wednesday, leaders of the House prepared to take up a rule requiring individual lawmakers to sign their names to some of the pet projects they tuck into major tax and spending bills. As an internal House rule, the requirement would be in effect only until the end of the session, just a few weeks away.

While reform advocates denounced the proposal as nearly toothless, its bite was still too sharp for many in Congress. By Wednesday night the resolution appeared to be bogged down in a three-way squabble among Republicans, Democrats and the powerful members of the House Appropriations Committee.

“It has been a very pathetic showing,” said Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for the reform group Common Cause. Even with one congressman in jail, a well-known lobbyist on the way and several other members and staff members still under investigation, she said: “The response to this has been nothing. It has been silence.”

The resolution was a chance for House Republican leaders to make good on at least some element of their pledges in January, when Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the majority leader, declared his party’s agenda at risk “because of a growing perception that Congress is for sale” and Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois declared that “now is the time for action.”

The Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff had recently pleaded guilty to paying bribes to members of Congress, including treating some to a lavish golf trip to Scotland. Former Representative Randy Cunningham, Republican of California, had pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from a military contractor. Both scandals involved lobbyists paying bribes for “earmarks” — the special interest projects inserted into major spending bills by individual lawmakers, often anonymously and with little scrutiny. House Republican attempts at new rules have been dismissed as paltry by both reform advocates and Democrats. Mr. Hastert initially called for a ban on all Congressional travel at private expense and tightening the limits on lobbyists’ gifts to lawmakers and staff (the current limit is $50, or $250 if the recipient is considered a friend). Others pushed for doubling the one-year waiting period before departing lawmakers and staff members can lobby their former colleagues.

But the lobbying reform bill that passed the House this year was scaled back to drop all these ideas. Instead, it focused on requiring lobbyists to disclose more of their dealings with members and staffs. The Senate passed a very different bill, and aides in both chambers say they are not expected to be reconciled into a final bill this year.

The final thrust of the House reform agenda was a measure to address earmarks — a favorite idea of Mr. Boehner. He initially called for substantive restrictions on their insertion in spending bills but eventually settled for a measure to at least illuminate the murky practice by requiring the public identification of the member who sought each earmark.

But the Republican leaders’ draft resolution defined earmarks only as funds for organizations outside the federal government, like cities, universities, museums or nonprofit groups. It would not apply to earmarks directing money to the Defense Department or other federal agencies to execute projects, which account for the vast majority of the federal money spent on earmarks.

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