- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Senate today is expected to debate and start final consideration of a bill that would make sweeping changes to lobbying rules, with senators saying the vote is crucial to show that lawmakers are serious about “cleaning up” Washington.

Senators yesterday voted on two amendments to Sen. Trent Lott’s bill to curb the influence of lobbyists, though there are nearly 80 proposed amendments on file. Late in the evening senators voted 81-16 to move on to final consideration of the measure, effectively limiting the amount of debate and amendments that can be taken up.

“This bill is not perfect but it contains important reforms,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, in urging his colleagues to move to a final vote.

Senators now have 30 hours to debate and then vote on Mr. Lott’s bill, which bans gifts and meals paid for by lobbyists, requires lawmakers to attend an ethics training program and attempts to limit earmarks, called “pork-barrel” spending by critics. They will only consider amendments that are relevant to the bill.

Senators voted 67-30 to reject the creation of an independent Office of Public Integrity that would oversee congressional ethics, an amendment proposed by Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican.

“The public believes that investigation of our colleagues by our colleagues raises obvious conflicts of interest,” she said. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

But Select Committee on Ethics members call the proposal “off target,” saying it would replicate their work.

Senators did vote 84-13 for an amendment requiring senators to disclose their reasons for holding up legislation. The so-called “secret holds” targeted by this amendment are a “lobbyist jackpot,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat.

Mr. Lott, Mississippi Republican, balked at the number of amendments to his bill, saying most were irrelevant to lobbying reform.

“Are we serious … or not?” he asked. “Some people I suspect would hope this would just slide off the face of the Earth [but] this issue is going to be dealt with.”

The lobbying legislation was given priority in the wake of scandals surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the bribery conviction of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, California Republican.

Key House members yesterday called for 527 groups — so called for the Internal Revenue Service code that governs their nonprofit tax status — to be subject to the campaign finance laws that govern lawmakers. Those groups, such as America Coming Together and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, are mostly funded by a handful of wealthy activists.

“This is big money by a few people on a massive scale,” said Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican. The groups funneled $370 million into the 2004 election, with 46 persons giving more than $1 million each, lawmakers said.

The House expects a full vote on a new lobbying bill and the proposed 527 changes — which are not included in the Senate version — next week.


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