- The Washington Times - Friday, January 6, 2006

The Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal has pushed restrictive ethics reforms on the House and Senate’s front burners, as legislative leaders move to protect their political flanks in an election year when nearly two-thirds of Americans disapprove of Congress’ job performance.

Several lobbying reform bills that have been languishing in committees are drawing attention from Republican leaders, who say they expect action on them early in this session.

“It is becoming conventional wisdom that a significant lobbying reform package will occur sometime early this year,” said a senior House Republican official yesterday, on the condition of anonymity.

Several bills have been introduced in Congress, including one by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, that would impose tougher restrictions and new disclosure requirements on lobbyists. This comes in the wake of an investigation that has ensnared Abramoff, three former Republican House officials and at least one congressman.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, has asked Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, to draft a package of reforms to be passed this year, and House Republicans were planning similarly quick action.

However, lawyers who specialize in campaign-finance and lobbying laws wondered how long the mounting intensity for reform would last.

“Everybody gets religion after a scandal, at least for a while,” said ethics lawyer Jan Baran, who represents major lobbying groups. “There are a lot of ethics rules in the House and Senate. The problem is that there either aren’t enough rules or the enforcement has been insufficient.”

But local top lobbyists, who said they welcomed tougher rules and enforcement, were urging caution yesterday, fearing the reforms will go too far.

“They ought to be careful in how far they go because you could extend a tremendous burden on the entire process under our democratic system to be able to petition your government,” said R. Bruce Josten, chief lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Most of the pending bills would require former members of Congress to wait two years after leaving office — instead of the current one year — before they can lobby on Capitol Hill. They also would be required to file quarterly disclosure reports instead of twice yearly, and file more information about their activities into a public database.

Some lobbyists and their legal advisers are worried about provisions in Mr. McCain’s bill that would impose new reporting requirements over lobbying campaigns at the grass-roots level.

“It requires disclosure of lobbying activities and expenses related to grass-roots advertising. That goes pretty far,” Mr. Josten said.

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 71 percent of Americans said there was little difference between Republicans and Democrats on ethical issues.

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