- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Proponents of stricter lobbying laws say the resignation of embattled former Majority Leader Tom DeLay underscores the urgent need for reform.

“This Congress needs to be rescued,” said Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican. He added that members are being put on the defensive and need to tell voters: “We aren’t as corrupt as you think.”

Mr. Shays made his comments during a series of hearings on a lobbying reform bill that the House expects to debate and pass this spring.

Rep. Steve Chabot said yesterday that Mr. DeLay, Texas Republican, “has been a distraction” from key issues facing Congress. The Ohio Republican made his comments after a hearing of his Judiciary subcommittee on the constitution over the proposed lobbying bill.

The witnesses testifying at that hearing used Mr. DeLay as an illustration of the need to put tighter restrictions on lobbying.

“I don’t need to remind you about the scandals,” said Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause, a nonpartisan watchdog organization. “You have unique power to restore our faith in elected leaders.”

Miss Pingree noted that 85 percent of voters are concerned about corruption in Congress and worry that lawmakers will “ignore the headlines, and they can’t be much bolder than they are this morning.”

The measure under consideration requires lobbyists to disclose their expenses and activities more regularly and “puts more teeth into the enforcement of current law,” Mr. Chabot said.

Also in the bill is a temporary suspension on privately funded travel for the rest of the 109th Congress and a ban on allowing lawmakers to travel with lobbyists on corporate flights. It also increases the penalty for violating ethics rules.

“Today’s news certainly brings added stress to the situation,” said Kenneth A. Gross, who heads a political law practice.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, said the recent indictments, resignations and prison sentences “have cast a pall over this institution, whether we like it or not.”

Without swift action, voters”“will only become more cynical,” he said.

Several House committees this week are expected to pass elements of the lobbying reform plan. The Senate passed its own version — which includes a ban on gifts to lawmakers — last week. The two chambers will need to reconcile the differences to the measures in a conference committee.

Rep. David Dreier, California Republican and chairman of the House Rules Committee, said passing ethics reform will make Congress “more accountable [and] more deliberative.”

Enhancing disclosure will help both political parties clean up their image, he said.

Many lawmakers say the more pressing need is campaign finance reform. The House this week is expected to consider a measure dealing with 527 groups — nonprofits funded mostly by wealthy activists.

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