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Ethics panel cut as Senate lobby reform advances
Legislation that would force lobbyists to disclose more about their spending to influence the political process advanced yesterday in the Senate, but without a key provision that would have set up an independent office to monitor congressional ethics.
The 12-1 vote in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee sends the bill to the Senate floor, where it could come up next week.
That would be about two months after former lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty in a federal corruption investigation involving his providing of lavish trips, meals and golf outings “in exchange for a series of official acts.”
The relative speed in moving the bill reflects election-year concerns that lobbying and ethics scandals have alienated voters.
“The consequences of these scandals are so antithetical to our democracy and so damaging to Congress that we must come together to produce reform or face further derision and mistrust,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, who sponsored the bill with committee Chairman Susan Collins, Maine Republican.
Under the Collins-Lieberman bill, lobbyists would have to file reports of their activities quarterly rather than the current twice a year, and would have to ensure Internet access to those reports. Lobbyists also would have to provide details of trips they arrange for legislators and make annual disclosures of their campaign contributions or fundraisers for politicians.
Retiring lawmakers would have to wait two years before accepting jobs lobbying Congress, up from the current one-year waiting period.
But in a 11-5 vote, the committee decided to eliminate a provision that would have set up an office of public integrity, an agency with investigative and subpoena powers that would complement and assist the work of the House and Senate ethics committees.
“Restoring public confidence is essential and the public is very leery about whether we can set our own rules,” Miss Collins said in explaining the need for the new office. She and Mr. Lieberman stressed that the ethics committees still would have final say on proceeding with investigations or charging members with violations.
But three committee members who are also on the six-member ethics committee balked, saying they were doing a good job and that adding another layer of bureaucracy would only complicate their work.
“I fear that the ethics committee will become little more than a paralyzed political body,” said committee Chairman Sen. George V. Voinovich, Ohio Republican.
Mr. Lieberman vowed to reintroduce the provision when the bill reaches the Senate floor.
On Tuesday, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee approved legislation that included a new procedure for senators to wean earmarks, those specifically targeted and at times wasteful projects that lawmakers like to take home to their constituents, from larger bills.
Any senator would be able to raise a point of order against an earmark that didn’t get a committee vote, and 60 votes would be needed to keep it alive.
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