- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2007

The House yesterday overwhelmingly passed two measures toughening lobbying rules and attempting to shed light on the way Congress does business, with members from both parties saying they must restore the public’s trust in Washington.

The bills require lobbyists and political action committees to reveal the names of campaign donors they collect money from and “bundle” in one check for lawmakers — a practice that sometimes provided anonymity — and calls on lobbyists to file financial disclosures more frequently.

Democrats hailed the measures, which must be reconciled with a stronger Senate version, as building upon the rules they implemented when they took control of Congress in January, including a ban on lobbyists buying gifts, meals or travel for lawmakers.

“This leadership has come to power … asked by the American public to take us in a new direction, a direction that demands transparency for our people and accountability for our members and those who would seek to influence policy,” said Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland. “It is a good day for accountability, transparency and honesty in government.”

The overall lobbying bill passed on a bipartisan 396-22 vote. The bundling bill passed 382-37.

The Senate passed its own lobbying measure in January. The plans must be reconciled in a conference committee before a bill can be sent to President Bush for his signature. Democrats said the bills will be sent “immediately” to conference and they believe it “will remain largely intact.”

Sens. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Barack Obama of Illinois, Democrats who are main sponsors of their chamber’s lobbying reform, praised the “bundling” provisions but were critical that their version’s ban on subsidized private jet travel was not included in the House bill.

They added a strong ethics bill will “change Washington from a place that’s only open to those with the cash and connections to one that represents the voices and votes of every single American.”

Among the provisions in the House bill are increasing the number of reports lobbyists must file on their contributions and activities. Lobbyists must also disclose donations to charities run by lawmakers.

The reports will be posted on the Internet to a searchable database.

Lawmakers must disclose any negotiations they are having with future employers, and must excuse themselves from any bills that relate to that employer.

The measure would allow a judge to double the criminal sentence for public officials convicted of bribery, fraud or extortion.

The bill keeps in place the requirement that members and staffers who leave Capitol Hill to become lobbyists must wait one year before they can lobby their former colleagues on an issue.

Watchdog groups had wanted the House to adopt the Senate’s provision that extended the ban to two years, saying the longer time would curb the influence lobbyists have on legislation.

Both Democrats and Republicans said the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal seriously corroded the American public’s opinion of Congress.

“The American people deserve a government that operates in the sunlight not in the shadows,” said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary panel.

Reform is an “absolute necessity,” agreed freshman Rep. Zack Space, Ohio Democrat elected in November to replace Bob Ney, who is serving jail time for corruption.

Mr. Space had some reservations the bill could be stronger, but said it reflects a “serious effort” to “clean up Washington.” “It is imperative we break this cycle of deceit,” he said.

Republicans were successful in making two major changes to the lobbying bills — restricting gifts from public lobbyists such as those working for major state universities or hospitals and forcing political action committees to disclose their small donors who are included in “bundled” contributions.

During debate, Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. of Michigan conceded, “This is not the perfect bill.” But Democrats promised more reform.

Leaders said they will make changes in the congressional ethics panels this summer and consider the formation of an independent group to monitor member behavior.

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