- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Stung by scandal, House Republican leaders announced plans yesterday to impose at least a temporary ban on privately funded travel by lawmakers, along with a requirement for lobbyists to disclose the gifts they parcel out to House members.

The recommendations will “sustain the integrity of the Congress as we move forward,” House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said at a press conference.

There was no immediate reaction from Democrats, who have already unveiled ethics legislation of their own and accuse Republicans of creating a “culture of corruption” in Congress.

The GOP leadership outlined its plans at a closed-door meeting of the rank and file, but did not provide any details in writing.

Officials said Tuesday night that one change would require lawmakers for the first time to disclose when they direct federal funds to be spent on pet projects, the first attempt in years to rein in a practice known as earmarking.

It was not immediately clear what changes, if any, had been made to that proposal overnight.

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s guilty plea on corruption charges in January sent shudders through Republican ranks and led to former Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s decision to step down from his House leadership post.

The proposal would place a cap of slightly under $27,000 on contributions from political organizations, along with a requirement that donors be disclosed by name. Republicans assert that Democrats benefit far more than the GOP from such groups, and tried unsuccessfully late last year to reduce their clout.

The new disclosure requirement on gifts would apply to food, drink or other items lobbyists give lawmakers, according to officials. Otherwise, the House gift rules would remain unchanged. Lawmakers may currently accept gifts of up to $50 in value, totaling no more than $100 in a year from any individual.

The ban on privately funded travel would remain in place until the House ethics committee was able to establish an alternative designed to scrutinize trips in advance and make sure they complied with the rules.

One of the unanswered questions in the Abramoff investigation is whether members of Congress knowingly took official action that benefited his clients in exchange for campaign contributions and gifts such as trips abroad.

Lawmakers would be allowed to fly on corporate jets at the cost of a first-class ticket, according to Republicans familiar with the plan, but registered lobbyists would be barred from such flights.

Details of the recommended change involving so-called earmarks — the practice of lawmakers commanding federal funds for pet projects — was not clear. The issue has divided Republicans, with many conservatives demanding an end to the practice and members of the Appropriations Committee and many others defending it.

Officials said the GOP leaders wanted to make one significant change affecting House campaigns. As outlined, it would allow the Republican and Democratic campaign committees to provide unlimited coordinated assistance to candidates.

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