Senate's lobby reform: strong enough?
A bill that bans meals and gifts from lobbyists passed Wednesday, but
critics say it falls short.
Gail Russell Chaddock | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
March 31, 2006
WASHINGTON - As senators hunkered down for a
final vote on lobbying reform this week, a US district judge in Miami was
sentencing ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff to nearly six years in prison for fraud.
The buzz from the trial helped the Senate to a 90-8 vote to require more
disclosure of lobbyists, but fell far short of the changes that reformers say
is necessary to stem corruption.
The Abramoff sentence could have been longer, but his defense lawyers
report that Mr. Abramoff has turned over thousands of documents to help
federal investigations of bribery and corruption in Congress. Prosecutors
wanted to reward his cooperation.
It's a coincidence not lost on members of Congress, who are reviving
efforts to move reform legislation before fall elections.
"It is fitting and appropriate that we're completing our work in the Senate
on this stage of the lobbying reform bill on the day that former lobbyist Jack
Abramoff received his first prison sentence," said Sen. Susan Collins (R) of
Maine, who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee,
after the vote.
The scandals involving Abramoff and former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R)
of California, recently sentenced to eight years for bribery involving his
placement of earmarks in spending bills for defense contractors, "prompted us
to take a look at practices that, while legal, eroded public confidence in the
integrity of our institutions here in Washington," she added.
The Senate's bill could have been tougher. The bill bans gifts from
lobbyists, requires disclosure of spending on grassroots lobbying activities,
and quarterly reports from lobbyists that would be available electronically -
a first for the Senate.
However, proposals to ban congressional earmarks and privately funded
travel failed to make it into the bill. So did a plan to create a new Office
of Public Integrity to take the investigation of ethics charges out of the
hands of senators.
Most important, the bill failed to close the door on the vast number of
ways lobbyists can help members of Congress, including bundling campaign
contributions, sponsoring fundraisers, paying for member events, contributing
to a lawmaker's charity.
"We would have been much, much better off with no bill," says Keith
Ashdown, vice president of policy at Taxpayers for Common Sense. "Everything
they did, there's a simple way around it."
The ban on adding earmarks at the last minute can be circumvented by
adding them before conference negotiations. "Based on what the Senate
passed today, Duke Cunningham could come back to Congress today and rip off
the government for tens of millions more and we wouldn't know it," says Mr.
But most members are convinced that the scandal won't touch them
personally. The House version of the bill has been assigned to at least
four committees - never a sign that a bill is on a fast track.
"It's very problematic because of the House," says Marshall Wittmann, a
former conservative activist now with the Democratic Leadership Council. "The
perks are too enticing for them to convert to the religion of reform."
While new House majority leader John Boehner (R) of Ohio doesn't personally
favor the use of earmarks, or targeting funds to particular projects -
and has taken heat over it in his home district - he is struggling to bring
the GOP caucus along. "The Abramoff and Cunningham convictions aren't not
going to fuel this any more. It's going to take future indictments," says
A closer look at the lobbying changes
The Senate voted 90-8 Wednesday to approve a number of changes to the
way lobbying is reported and conducted. Supporters say the bill, which
must be reconciled with a yet-to-be-determined House version, provides
greater transparency to the legislative process. Critics say it lacks tough
enforcement and falls short of the sweeping reforms first proposed in the
wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal.
The Senate bill does:
• Deny floor privileges to former members of Congress who are lobbyists.
• Prohibit lobbyists from giving meals or gifts to lawmakers.
• Require lawmakers to wait two years - not just one - before becoming
• Make it harder for members to add pet projects, called earmarks, to
The Senate bill does not:
• Ban privately funded travel for members.
• Ban earmarks.
• Extend the meal-and-gift ban to companies that hire lobbyists.
• Create an Office of Public Integrity, an independent body that would
investigate possible ethics violations by senators.
The Capitol - Washington, D.C. Lobbying Issues
Lobby Reform Lite
Editorial New York Times
March 31, 2006
With the ghost of Jack Abramoff, the recently sentenced
wafting above the debate, the Senate has voted for a halfhearted package of
that would come nowhere near curing the easy money, quid pro quo
culture that now bedevils the Capitol
Facing voters' flagging confidence, the Senate chose to emphasize
greater disclosure by lobbyists while rejecting such vital reforms as the
creation of an independent office to investigate ethics abuses. The
instinct to protect privileged clubbiness carried the day, most glaringly when
the Senate spiked any idea of ending lawmakers' shameless use of the executive
jets so eagerly offered by corporate officials bent on insider access.
Constituents who are grateful to see even the slightest sign of reform will
be happy that the senators have voted to extend to two years the mandatory
waiting time before a former lawmaker can strike it rich as a lobbyist. The
current wait is one year. The bill also takes the first steps toward
uncovering the stealthy world of grass-roots lobbying investments in
lawmakers' home districts.
The Senate bill would make it harder — but by no means impossible — for
members to quietly "earmark" pork projects in the budget at the behest of
lobbyists. But even such an obvious reform as banning meals and gifts from
lobbyists came equipped with a gaping loophole so the corporate employers of
lobbyists could still pick up those checks.
The unfinished ethics agenda begins with the most critical issue
of all: an end to the pervasive role of lobbyists as campaign finance brokers
and money bundlers for incumbent politicians. It's reached the point where the
people's representatives blatantly designate lobbyists to head their
fund-raising teams. This moneyed back-scratching is the seedbed for scandal,
but neither house shows any appetite to confront it.
Also ignored was a ban on lawmakers' junketeering at the expense of
special-interest check writers. The Senate chose instead to require prior
approval of private trips by its spineless ethics committee, a step that would
hardly mitigate the cheesiness. Taxpayers, not corporate sponsors, should pay
for global fact-finding.
For all its shortcomings, the Senate is a light-year ahead of the House.
There, reform proposals have been parceled out to committees for indefinite
marination as Republican leaders face rebellious members who want no part of
real reform. The chances seem slim for two-house action that truly dents the
clout of the booming lobbying industry.
Albany - New York State Lobbying Issues
Cuomo Calls for Total Ban on Gifts From
Andrew M. Cuomo
, a candidate for New York attorney general, offered a
series of proposals
yesterday to tighten ethics rules in state
, including banning all gifts from lobbyists and
prohibiting legislators from accepting honorariums for speeches.
Cuomo made the proposals in a speech at the School of Public Affairs at
Baruch College. Mr. Cuomo, a housing secretary in the Clinton administration
and the son of former Gov.
Mario M. Cuomo, also proposed banning elected officials and other state
executives from lobbying the government for three years after leaving
Ethics reform has been a prominent issue in recent elections. And Mr.
Cuomo made it clear that he would push lawmakers to enact legislation to
tighten some of those rules significantly. "If we're going to make state
government work better for people, we must take dramatic steps to end the
culture of corruption that permeates Albany," Mr. Cuomo said. "This
isn't a pie-in-the-sky proposal. These are achievable measures that enjoy
broad support among reformers across our state."
Lobbyist Abramoff sentenced to
five years, 10 months in fraud case
MARCH 29, 2006
MIAMI Disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and a business
partner were sentenced Wednesday to five years and 10 months in federal
prison, the minimum they faced for fraud related to their 2000 purchase of the
SunCruz Casinos gambling fleet.
Abramoff and Adam Kidan both pleaded guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud, but
they will not have to report to prison immediately.
The judge postponed their reporting date for at least 90 days so the two can
continue cooperating in a Washington corruption investigation and a Florida
probe into the killing of former SunCruz owner Konstantinos Boulis. Both deny
roles in the killing. Abramoff pleaded guilty in connection with the
corruption probe but has yet to be sentenced.
In court Wednesday, Abramoff said the fraud case was "incredibly painful" for
himself, his family and his friends.
"In the past two years I have started the process of becoming a new man," he
Under their plea agreement, both men had faced a sentence of between five
years, 10 months, and seven years, three months in federal prison. U.S.
District Judge Paul C. Huck also ordered them Wednesday to pay restitution of
more than $21 million (€17.4 million).
Abramoff and Kidan admitted concocting a fake $23 million (€19 million) wire
transfer to make it appear they had made a large cash contribution to the
$147.5 million (€122.1 million) purchase of SunCruz Casinos. Based on that
fake transfer, lenders provided the pair with $60 million (€49.7 million) in
The same week Abramoff pleaded guilty to the SunCruz fraud, he entered guilty
pleas to three federal charges as part of a wide-ranging corruption probe that
could involve up to 20 members of Congress and aides, including former
Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
In addition to assisting in that investigation, Abramoff, 47, and Kidan, 41,
are expected to give statements in the investigation into the Feb. 6, 2001,
slaying of Boulis, who was gunned down at the wheel of his car amid a power
struggle over the gambling fleet. Three men face murder charges, including one
who worked for Kidan as a consultant at SunCruz and who allegedly has ties to
New York's Gambino crime family.
Both Abramoff and Kidan have repeatedly denied any role in or knowledge of the
Boulis murder. But prosecutors say Kidan has not been ruled out as a suspect
and defense attorneys say Abramoff could provide critical inside information
about the dispute with Boulis, who also founded the Miami Subs restaurant
Ultimately, cooperation in those investigations could reduce Abramoff's and
Abramoff, who was wearing a tan baseball-style cap, did not speak to reporters
as he and his lawyers left court after the sentencing.
Before the hearing Wednesday, more than 260 people - including rabbis,
military officers and even a professional hockey referee - wrote letters on
the men's behalf asking the judge for leniency.
The letters, obtained by The Associated Press, put a new spin on the foibles
and crimes of a man who became the face of Washington's latest corruption
"Jack is a good person, who in his quest to be successful, lost sight of the
rules," National Hockey League referee Dave Jackson wrote, describing the time
Abramoff brought 14 youngsters to his dressing room before a game.
Kidan, in his own letter to the judge, said he knew the SunCruz deal was wrong
but said he "was very caught up in the fast paced world of my partner and the
high profile that came along with it." He added, "I am not the horrible person
that the media has written about."
Associated Press writer John Solomon in Washington contributed to this report.
Lobbying Reform Stumbles
Congress' push for tougher ethics rules is
already dying down
Thursday, Feb. 09, 2006
A month ago, Jack Abramoff had just been indicted, and the talk all over
Capitol Hill was about how Congress should change its rules, stopping lobbyists
from getting too close to lawmakers, and vice-versa. But even then, there were
signs that lobbying and ethics reforms might be yet another Washington fad that
would soon pass. Republican Roy Blunt, then running for the post of House
Majority Leader, defended earmarks—money doled out for specific projects in
congressional districts. And House Speaker Dennis Hastert, unable to blame the
powerless Democrats for the growth in earmarks, found the next best scapegoat,
saying the projects grew because "the Senate plays appropriation games."
And now, lo and behold, the reform talk has died down. While House
Republicans did push through a ban on former members lobbying in the House gym
last week, GOP members also suggested Hastert had overreacted to the Abramoff
scandal. "Some of the proposals out there were just not necessary," said one
House leadership aide. The new management in the House agrees. Two days before
his surprising election as House Majority Leader, Ohio Republican John Boehner
had suggested one of Hastert's ideas, banning all privately funded travel, was
"childish". Since then Boehner has further distanced himself from the reform
ideas, suggesting that current laws have worked in catching violations of ethics
rules and an independent office of public integrity to check for abuses is
unnecessary. "Sunlight is the best disinfectant," Boehner said on Meet the Press
Boehner isn't alone in this view. A National Journal poll of 35 Republicans
in the House and Senate found only 37% thought Congress should restrict
lobbyists' fundraising for members, while 63% disagree. And when the 231 House
members get together for a retreat that lasts from Thursday to Saturday in
Cambridge, Maryland, House leaders aren't expected to push the issue strongly.
But House members aren't the only problem. Perhaps the two most popular
members of the Senate and their respective party's' leaders on ethics and
lobbying reform, Barack Obama and John McCain, were engaged earlier this week in
a highly personal tiff on the issue. Obama, being pushed by Senate Democratic
leaders to use the lobbying reform issue to help attack the GOP as elections
loom in November, last week sent a letter to McCain, saying Democrats would
pursue their own ethics bill rather than joining a bill created by McCain's
bipartisan task force. In a letter this week, the Arizona Senator blasted Obama.
"I’m embarrassed to admit that after all these years in politics," McCain wrote,
"I failed to interpret your previous assurances as typical rhetorical gloss
routinely used in politics to make self-interested partisan posturing appear
more noble." At a Senate hearing yesterday, Obama and McCain put aside their
differences to push for lobbying reform proposals. McCain's bill would allow the
Senate to vote to eliminate earmarks out of bills.
Despite these distractions, the House and Senate seem likely to eventually
pass some limited changes: greater transparency of which members of Congress
have put an earmark into a bill, more disclosure of gifts and contacts of
lobbyists with lawmakers, and stricter rules on former congressional staffers or
members taking lobbying jobs. But the more dramatic reforms being discussed
immediately post-Abramoff, like stopping lawmakers from using corporate jets and
"leadership PACs"—which aspiring congressional leaders use to dole out money to
and curry favor with other members, and often have lobbyists serving as
treasurers—now have a much smaller chance of passing.
Copyright © 2006 Time Inc. All rights reserved.
How to Reform Lobbying
Thursday, February 9, 2006; A22
THERE'S NOT a lot of suspense about whether Congress will pass lobbying
reform this year. But what kind of reform -- cosmetic or real? Some of the
initial signals, particularly from the new House majority leader, Rep. John A.
Boehner (R-Ohio), are not promising. As we've said, any lobbying reform must
be accompanied by changes in how the House governs itself; even so, that will
not produce a perfect system by any means. But changing the rules also is
crucial, and there are right and wrong ways to go about that. Here are right
ways on several components under debate:
· Meals, entertainment and gifts. The question here is whether to
impose an outright ban on lawmakers and their staff accepting gifts, meals and
entertainment from lobbyists or to couple existing limits ($50 per gift, $100
from any single source per year) with increased disclosure (reporting all
gifts worth more than $20), more honest pricing (no more skybox tickets valued
at $49.99) and stronger enforcement.
We can't get too worked up about a lobbyist picking up lunch tabs, as long
as that is disclosed. But there's no excuse for taking freebies such as sports
tickets. And it's important that the rules crack down on the really valuable
benefits that private interests now provide -- events such as convention
parties honoring key lawmakers, lobbyist-funded holiday parties or cut-rate
use of corporate aircraft. Any plan that doesn't end those real perks of
office will have fallen short. The resistance to grounding corporate flight is
nothing short of outrageous.
· Travel. The issue is whether all private travel should be banned
or whether the travel rules should be tightened. We would favor significant
tightening over an absolute ban, if that can be feasibly achieved.
The most sensible rule would eliminate travel paid for not only by
lobbyists but also by companies and other entities that engage in lobbying
activities. But it would permit privately funded travel -- for example, by
foundations such as the Aspen Institute -- that isn't paid for, directly or
indirectly, by entities that lobby. That rule, combined with detailed
disclosure of travel itineraries, expenses, funding and companions, would
eliminate abuses without choking off travel that provides a valuable education
for lawmakers and their staffers.
· Disclosure. More detailed, timely disclosure is critical to the
success of any lobbying reform. Under existing rules, lobbyists are required
to report hardly any information -- they can explain simply that they lobbied
the House on a particular bill or issue -- and do so only twice a year.
They should be required to detail, at least quarterly, information on meals
or other gifts; political contributions; fundraisers hosted; contributions to
charities controlled or financed by members, or that they solicit; and
previous government employment. More important, lobbyists should report what
congressional or executive branch offices they contacted, and with whom they
A key word in the preceding sentence is "executive." As the Jack Abramoff
scandal shows, lobbying executive branch departments can be as profitable as
lobbying Congress; there is public interest in shining a light on both. As a
subset of this category, any reform should require disclosure of donations to
presidential libraries. That a sitting president can raise money for his
library in undisclosed and unlimited amounts from any source -- corporations,
foreign interests, individuals seeking pardons -- is an invitation to scandal.
The most telling disclosure of all would be to require lobbyists to report
how much money they raised for those they lobby. Thus far, not surprisingly,
no proposal would take that illuminating step.
© 2006 The Washington Post Company
37,000? 39,402? 11,500?
Just How Many Lobbyists Are There in Washington, Anyway?
Washington Post - United States
By Debra Mayberry
Sunday, January 29, 2006; B03
Give yourself a point for the correct answer to this question: What do
Tom Bevill, Lloyd Meeds and Tillie Fowler have in common? (a) They are all
former members of Congress (b) They are all registered lobbyists (c) They
are all dead.
The answer is all of the above. I offer this little quiz as a way of
highlighting a point that has caught my attention over the past several
months as the media have focused increasing attention on lobbying and tried
to quantify the registered lobbyists who currently work the halls of
On Jan. 19, CNN reported that there are "more than 37,000 registered
lobbyists." The Christian Science Monitor cited "39,402" registered
lobbyists on Jan. 20. The Seattle Times has "32,890" in a recent article.
USA Today is more conservative, reporting "more than 32,000" lobbyists. In
last Wednesday's Senate hearing on lobbying reform, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.)
referred to "more than 30,000 lobbyists" in his remarks. The Senate Office
of Public Records (SOPR), the agency responsible for receiving lobbyist
registrations and publishing them online, reports 32,890 registered
lobbyists as of Sept. 30, 2005.
As the publisher of the directory Washington Representatives and the Web
, I have a responsibility to my customers to present accurate and up-to-date
information. But the number of actively registered lobbyists that we publish
hovers around just 11,500.
How could our count be so different from the widely reported totals? I
had to find out. And that's where my quiz comes in.
I have no idea where some of the media's numbers come from. But I took a
closer look at the figure that SOPR presents and compared it with our data.
The difference in our numbers comes from the fact that we serve different
constituencies and apply different methodologies in how we present the data.
The Senate Office of Public Records provides a historical record of
registered lobbyists. We provide a current record of active lobbyists. It is
no wonder that the data look so different.
Let me make it clear that SOPR does a terrific job. We, and many others,
rely on its raw data for our publications. Its staff does an exceptional job
of making lobby registrations available to the public, and its figure
accurately reflects the number of lobbyists who have registered since 1998.
But errors creep into the system in a variety of ways. Often, individual
lobbyists register with SOPR under more than one name. For example, George
F. (Trey) Barnes III appears in the SOPR database as G. Furman (Trey)
Barnes, G. Furman Barnes III, George F. Barnes, George F. Barnes III and
Trey Barnes. Jack Abramoff appears twice -- as Jack Abramoff and Jack A.
Abramoff. Should we count them as eight lobbyists, or just two?
Termination reports are another issue. ("Termination" is when a lobbyist
files a report stating that he or she is no longer lobbying on behalf of a
client.) First of all, we've found that many lobbyists don't file a
termination report with SOPR when they change careers, retire or die.
Second, SOPR does not delete the names of lobbyists who file termination
reports, and for historical purposes, everyone agrees that the old records
should be retained. But there needs to be clarity about the number of
individuals who are currently registered as lobbyists vs. a historical
record about everyone who ever was registered to lobby.
Because our customers want data on lobbyists currently in the workforce,
we weed out lobbyists who have terminated relationships with clients. We
make calls to confirm information when we see six different versions of the
same name. In fact, we update our database every day as we receive
information, and we contact both lobbyists and clients to ensure accuracy.
Do we make mistakes? You bet we do. Even with our constant checking and
follow-up, errors still find their way into our data. But based on our
extensive research, we believe that the number of active lobbyists in
Washington is nowhere close to the widely reported totals.
Clearly, journalists, members of Congress, the lobbying industry and many
others believe that the number of registered lobbyists is important. But if
the number being tossed around includes lobbyists who are retired, dead or
listed under multiple names, then the scope and scale of the lobbying
industry is misunderstood.
I don't have a dog in the reform fight; I simply run a small company that
works to present the best possible data on lobbying. If part of the reform
effort were to include a provision for SOPR to retain their valuable
historical information and to present current lobbying workforce data, the
debates about lobbying would be more well-informed. Although such a
provision might put my company out of business, I know that policymakers
need accurate information about the size, scope and composition of the
lobbying industry in Washington. It's a risk I'm willing to take.
Debra Mayberry is president of Columbia Books Inc., publisher of
several directories listing professionals, including lobbyists and
Senators Say Ethics Beyond Lobbying Reform
Senators Say Ethics Issue Goes Beyond Lobbying Reform,
Extends to Own Behavior
By JIM ABRAMS
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Members of Congress must look at their
own behavior as well as lobbyists' if they are to regain the trust of the
American public, senators said Wednesday.
At the same time, lobbyists and those who sponsor trips for lawmakers
warned against overreacting to the headlines on the influence peddling
activities of Jack Abramoff. In particular, they said, banning all
privately funded travel could isolate lawmakers from the knowledge they
need to write law.
What's clear, said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chair of the Homeland
Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is that Congress can't tackle
the big issues facing the nation without the trust of the public. "And the
public's trust in Congress is perilously low."
"Frankly, the status quo stinks and cries out for us to clear the air,"
Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, the committee's top Democrat, said
at the first hearing following the Abramoff lobbying scandal.
Leaders from both parties in both chambers have promoted measures to
tighten rules and laws governing lawmaker contacts with lobbyists. There
are several common themes: restricting or banning the giving of gifts to
lawmakers, prohibiting lobbyists from arranging or funding trips,
lengthening the time between when a lawmaker leaves office and takes a job
as a lobbyist and requiring greater disclosure of lobbyist activities.
But speakers at the hearing also said members of Congress must look at
how they do business and get elected, larger issues that could complicate
quick passage of the first lobbying reform bill in a decade.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., co-sponsor of one of the major lobbying
bills, said Congress must tackle the problem of earmarks, special interest
projects that get inserted in larger pieces of legislation, often with the
help of lobbyists. "We're not going to fix this system until we fix the
earmarks," he said. "It's disgraceful, this process."
Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., who is preparing legislation at the behest
of the Senate GOP leadership, said his bill might also look at spending by
tax-exempt partisan groups known as 527s, a touchy subject because
Democrats relied heavily on such groups in the last election.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., also noted, in a broader sense,
that Congress must look at how lawmakers finance their political
campaigns. "Unless and until we address this in an honest fashion, we are
carping on trifles here."
In the House on Wednesday, Democrats David Obey of Wisconsin and Barney
Frank of Massachusetts said they would introduce legislation to eliminate
all private money for House elections, turning instead to public
financing. "The problem with politics is more fundamental than meals or
trips with lobbyists," Obey said in a statement.
Taking a different approach, Sens. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., Wayne Allard,
R-Colo., and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., unveiled a plan to create an independent
commission, similar to the 9/11 Commission, to recommend ethics reforms.
"What is at stake here is clearly the credibility of the institution,"
Coleman said at the hearing.
But Paul Miller, president of the American League of Lobbyists, urged
Congress not to respond to the actions of a "few unscrupulous operatives"
by impeding the rights of citizens, including lobbyists, to petition
Congress and keep members of Congress informed.
John Engler, former governor of Michigan and current head of the
National Association of Manufacturers, told the panel that the current
system was working, noting that a lobbyist was going to jail and a member
of Congress was going to be sentenced. He was apparently referring to
Abramoff and former Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-Calif., who recently pleaded
guilty to bribery.
"Whatever occurs, I think it is imperative that you do not overreact,"
Dick Clark, a former senator from Iowa who established the Aspen
Institute program for Congress, said it was right for Congress to reject
lobbyist involvement in trips. But a total ban on privately funded travel
"would be a disservice to members of Congress," he said.
Aspen arranges seminars both inside the country and around the world
where members of Congress are required to attend conferences that last six
hours a day over four days. It does not pay for recreational activities.
"Foreign travel is essential in an era of globalization," he
said. "Insularity is not an option for the world's only superpower."
McCain, Obama settle feud over lobbying reform
Thu Feb 9, 2006 7:21 AM ET
By Andy Sullivan www.reuters.com
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama patched up a
feud and pledged on Wednesday to work together to enact new lobbying limits in
the wake of the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal.
The Arizona Republican and the Illinois Democrat, who exchanged sharply
worded letters this week, told the Senate Rules Committee they both want to
reconcile competing measures to reform the pervasive Washington practice of
plying lawmakers with donations and favors to try to influence legislation.
"Senator Obama and I are moving on and are continuing to work together and I
value his input," said McCain.
Obama put his arm around McCain for the benefit of photographers, and called
McCain his "pen pal."
McCain had accused Obama of "partisan posturing" after Obama urged him to
consider a reform bill backed by nearly all Senate Democrats instead of an
approach suggested by the Senate Majority Leader, Tennessee Republican Bill
Among the proposed reforms is one that would limit the ability of lawmakers
to secretly insert spending measures at the end of the legislative process.
Washington's lucrative lobbying industry has come under scrutiny in recent
months since the Abramoff scandal ensnared several prominent Republicans,
including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas.
Abramoff pleaded guilty last month to plying unnamed lawmakers with gifts and
travel junkets to win influence for his clients.
The House of Representatives has already changed its rules to ban former
members of Congress who become registered lobbyists from its chamber and gym,
though Democrats say that will have little effect.
Both McCain's bill and the one backed by Obama would require greater
disclosure of lobbying activities and double the "cooling off" period to two
years before former members of congress can lobby their colleagues.
The Democratic bill would also ban gifts from lobbyists and prohibit
privately funded travel by members of Congress.
Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold said lawmakers should also be
required to pay for their own meals.
"If you really want to have dinner with a lobbyist, no one is saying that you
can't. Just take out your credit card and pay your own way," he said.
A ban on meals would be "going off the total deep end," countered Mississippi
Republican Sen. Trent Lott, who chairs the Rules Committee. "We ought to ban
gifts, but the meals thing is going to far."
Several lawmakers said that the practice of inserting last-minute "earmarks"
into massive spending bills needs to be brought under control. Documents show
that Abramoff tried to use this tactic to win favors for his Indian tribe
Obama suggested that an independent committee made up of retired judges and
ex-lawmakers should ensure that the new rules are enforced.
"We can pass all the new ethics in the world but if we don't establish a body
that can monitor and enforce those rules it will be very easy to break them," he
Lott said his committee will vote on reform legislation in the last week of
Lobbying reform turning into an uphill battle on the Hill
senators try to bridge their rift over issue, House warns of resistance
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Lobbying reform, which looked like a sure
thing after kingpin lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to corruption
charges, is proving more difficult than expected.
Two high-profile senators on Wednesday tried to paper over their dispute on
their issue, and GOP House members braced for an airing of their sharp
differences at a three-day retreat that begins today.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Barack Obama,
D-Ill., testified before a Senate panel that they were committed to working
together on reform legislation despite a recent, testy exchange of letters in
which McCain accused Obama of injecting partisanship into the issue.
McCain, a potential 2008 presidential candidate, told
the rules committee that he valued Obama's efforts to broker a bipartisan
McCain has proposed making it easier for senators to
challenge earmarks, which are projects that lawmakers tack onto spending
bills, sometimes at the behest of lobbyists.
Jokingly referring to McCain as his "pen pal," Obama, a
freshman and rising star in the Democratic Party, said he not only wanted more
scrutiny of earmarks but also to create an independent commission to police
the activities of lawmakers and lobbyists.
Obama later said McCain had misunderstood his criticism
of a bipartisan lobbying reform task force spearheaded by the Arizona senator.
Obama said his criticism was aimed at Senate Majority
Leader Bill Frist's remarks that the task force should study the issue; Obama
said the matter needed action, not just talk.
But even as the senators pressed their case for
changing the way Congress does business, other lawmakers warned they were
meeting resistance from many of their colleagues, particularly to a plan to
ban privately funded travel by lawmakers.
Immediately after federal prosecutors reached a plea
bargain with Abramoff, who may implicate some lawmakers, congressional leaders
rushed to offer lobbying reform plans.
But Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., a reform advocate, said
that in the past two weeks, "we are hearing the sound of furious back-peddling
in the corridors of power."
In the House, new Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio,
said he has doubts about barring private groups from paying for congressional
The ban is among several measures proposed by House
Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., last month.
Boehner was elected to replace Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar
Land, whom many Republicans feared had become a political liability because of
his close ties to Abramoff.
But Boehner also has links to lobbyists.
He rents an apartment in Washington from a lobbyist
whose clients have an interest in legislation overseen by the Education and
Workforce Committee, which Boehner had recently chaired, the Washington Post
Lobbying reform is expected to be the major topic for
House Republicans during their retreat on Maryland's eastern shore, said Jo
Maney, a spokeswoman for Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., who was directed by
Hastert to devise lobbying legislation.
The original plan was for the lobbying bill to go to
the House floor by March, but no longer. More lawmakers must weigh in first,
"Everybody's got opinions," she remarked.
Lobbying Against Lobby Reform
Matthew E. Berger
JTA Wire Service www.jta.org
FEBRUARY 09, 2006
As plans for lobbying reform trickle down from both political parties in the
U.S. Congress, a unified American Jewish establishment is finding itself in an
increasingly precarious position.
Jewish groups are already quietly fighting some of the reform proposals,
especially the proposed ban on foreign travel paid for by lobbyists, which could
prevent groups from sending lawmakers to Israel.
But picking this fight could pit Jewish groups against many of the
congressional leaders they often try to court.
The lobbying reform issue may become one of the most important issues of the
year for Jewish lobbyists, say community activists.
"The entire Jewish community is mobilized," said William Daroff, vice
president for public policy of the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella of
the North American federation movement. "There is unanimity of opinion on the
value of these trips from a public policy position."
Despite their efforts at quiet diplomacy, the Jewish voice is clearly being
Around Capitol Hill, the debate over foreign travel for lawmakers is being
called the "AIPAC question," sources said, noting the reference to the American
Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby.
With congressional Republicans and Democrats each vying to be seen as the
strongest on reform, advocates of more moderate lobbying reforms are not being
well received in the halls of Congress.
Jewish officials say lawmakers are telling them that the proposals they are
seeing now will change, and the end result will likely be legislation that would
not restrict all travel.
"Everybody says, 'You probably won't be happy with where the debate starts,
but we pledge you'll be happy with where the debate ends,' " said one Jewish
official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the
issue. "Neither side wants to be seen as soft on ethics and neither wants to be
out-flanked by the other."
Some Democrats want to capitalize on the current attention to the issue,
thinking that presenting a tough bill will help them in the midterm elections in
Republicans, meanwhile, are hoping quick reforms will neutralize the bad
press they have received in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal.
Despite their intense opposition, Jewish groups so far are conducting a quiet
campaign, relying on prominent lay leaders and professionals to speak privately
They are trying to make the case that they need to be able to take members of
Congress to Israel to help foster strong support for the Jewish state. They say
it is also important to allow lawmakers to travel to other important
international locales, like Sudan, and to communities around the United States,
to meet with Jewish audiences and see how federal funds are spent.
Jewish organizational leaders have held a series of conference calls in the
past few weeks, discussing tactics for opposing the travel ban.
They are focusing on what they're calling "smart reform," advocating for
changes to lobbying rules, but against a ban on paying for congressional travel.
Specifically, they are seeking compromises that would allow non-profit groups
to continue paying for educational travel.
"We're not talking about a public campaign," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive
vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish
Organizations, which organized a call last week. "We're all sensitive to the
implications and we're in favor of reform."
A number of Jewish groups, including AIPAC, joined a wide range of
non-governmental organizations in a letter this week opposing the travel ban,
authored by the Institute on Religion and Public Policy.
"If NGOs are barred from funding educational travel by members and staff,
such travel will be feasible only with taxpayer funds or at personal expense,"
said the letter, sent to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).
"If members must travel only at their own expense, the toll of the traveling
cost will inevitably lead to minimal travel."
Meanwhile, religious groups are seeking to be exempted from any new lobbying
regulations, just as they are exempted from current lobbying restrictions. The
Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, which set the rules lawmakers currently operate
under, allows "churches" to participate in the political process without
registering as official lobbies.
A coalition of religious organizations, led by Rabbi David Saperstein,
director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, is pressuring
lawmakers to continue that practice, sources said.
Saperstein declined to comment.
Crafting a strategy of opposition to the lobbying reforms has been
complicated by the numerous plans in the works. Some propose a total ban on
privately funded lawmaker travel, others would ban only travel paid for by
lobbyists or that includes lobbyists on the trip and still others would ban even
separate educational travel programs, like the one AIPAC has established.
AIPAC currently brings registered lobbyists on its trips, a spokesman said.
Last year, separate trips were led by Reps. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), then the House
majority leader, and Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip.
Democratic aides tried to assure Jewish activists that some travel would be
allowed, but have felt pressure in recent weeks to keep pace with the Republican
proposal. "They are sympathetic to our concerns, but there is a sense they have
to do something about this, and drawing those kinds of lines is not easy to do,"
said Richard Foltin, legislative director of the American Jewish Committee.
He noted that Abramoff used non-profit groups for some of his trips, which
has complicated the line between legitimate and illegitimate sponsors of travel.
Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), one of two Republican Jews in the Senate, asked
about AIPAC travel in a hearing on lobbying reform before the Senate Homeland
Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Jan. 25.
"AIPAC does a service in having members go to Israel, when you get to meet
with leaders," Coleman said. "That would be bad -- that would be prohibited if
we take the approach that's been articulated here. So I don't think that helps
us be better senators. "
Observers believe there is likely to be a middle ground, because congressmen
want to be able to travel, especially on so-called fact-finding trips.
"If you still allow privately funded travel, but you don't allow the payment
of such travel by registered lobbyists, there will be a way for groups to take
members abroad for educational purposes," said one congressional official, who
asked not to be identified.
"My sense is that groups like AIPAC can figure out a way to put a sign
ificant firewall around their educational programs."
McCain Vs. Obama on lobbying reform
An exchange of letters between senators heats up
ethics reform efforts
1:57 p.m. ET Feb. 8, 2006
political story in Washington is the battle between Senators John McCain and
Barack Obama. In a blistering
letter, Senator McCain accused Obama of, quote, “using the ethics reform
issue for self-interested partisan posturing” and apologized for thinking
Obama was sincere.
This is the
first time any prominent national politician has publicly criticized superstar
Obama. Why did Senator McCain go after the freshman senator?
joins Chris Matthews to explain.
MATTHEWS, HOST 'HARDBALL': What was your original relationship with
Senator Obama on Congressional reform?
MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: Well, my relationship was fine with him. We had a
difference of viewpoint because he sent me a letter that basically said that,
as I read it, we weren‘t going to work together.
And he‘d been
at a meeting with me and the chairman and ranking member, Senator Collins,
Senator Lieberman, as we worked towards lobbying reform, which we have to do.
And then I received a letter that basically said that he wasn‘t going to do
that. Actually, I didn‘t receive the letter before I got pressured for it and
so I responded with a little straight talk.
OK, let me ask you about the original—it seems to me, looking at the exchange
of letters between yourself and Senator Obama, the Democratic senator for
Illinois, that you initially put together a bipartisan effort and then he
withdrew from the deal and went back and said and told you in no uncertain
terms, I‘m not dealing with you anymore in a bipartisan fashion, I‘m going off
and going to do this as a Democrat.
Well, I had a conversation with Senator Obama and he said that was not his
intention, but the way I read the letter, after I heard from the press that it
was on his way, that indeed that that was the case, including touting Senator
Reid‘s proposal, which has no Republican sponsors and will not, and we all
know that we have to work together. And so I responded and Senator Obama and
I had a conversation, and we agreed to move on.
Do you stand by your letter back to Senator Obama?
Well, let‘s take a look at it because I think that people will learn a lot
from this about—I know you‘re being nice now, but the way in which Obama
treated you here. The first line of the letter—I thought we were going to see
this on the prompter here?
“I‘d like to
apologize to you for assuming that your private assurances to me regarding
your desire to cooperate and our efforts to negotiate bipartisan lobbying
reform legislation were sincere.” You‘re basically saying what here?
I‘m saying that I believe that his efforts were sincere at the time. The
letter that I received contradicted that, at least my reading of it, and I
don‘t know how you read it any other way, and so therefore I—that‘s exactly
what I said. It was a little straight talk, Chris.
Well, I concluded—there‘s more here. “I concluded your professed concern for
the institution and the public interest was genuine and admirable. Thank you
for disabusing me of such notions.” You‘re saying to the guy I thought you
were a gentleman and a civil servant and now you‘re obviously not.
Well, I thought it was pretty well written, didn‘t you?
I think it was tough. Ken Mehlman, the chairman of your party, has gone after
Hillary Clinton for being angry, as if there‘s something wrong with it. This
is a letter of a very sophisticated, angry senator. What‘s wrong with being
I‘m not angry.
Well, this letter is brilliantly angry.
Well, I wasn‘t angry when I wrote it. Look, I wrote the letter because I was
very disappointed in the letter that I received from Senator Obama, and was
told to me by the press.
Look, this is a
pressing issue. We have to move forward in a bipartisan fashion. You know
and I know that if—the only way you resolve one of these issues is in a
bipartisan fashion, and so that‘s why I felt strongly about it.
In the room
where Senator Collins, the chairperson of the Oversight Committee, and Senator
Lieberman—and we had all agreed to move forward with her committee as quickly
as possible. And there was reference in the letter to a task force, that
frankly we had committed to moving forward with the committee process.
know, I worked on the Hill for many years. I used to notice there was a big
difference between the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate
was bipartisan by its nature. It was people that found common ground where
they could and didn‘t waste a lot of time.
The House of
Representatives was mainly about taking party positions and seeing who won.
Do you think that Obama is behaving like a House member here rather than a
I hope not. I hope that he made a mistake and that we can move forward. And
I continue to work with Joe Lieberman and many other senators, because they
realize that we‘ve got to get work done on a bipartisan basis. Have times
changed? Of course they have changed, and for the worse.
OK, we‘re hoping to get Senator Obama to come on and talk about how you‘re
going to work together. But are you—have any confidence now that he will join
your bipartisan effort?
Well, I hope so. We have agreed to move forward and that‘s what‘s important
at this point, and we‘ve probably provided enough entertainment for a while.
That letter that you sent, and we were beginning—I‘m not going to quote any
further from it. I think we caught the gist or tone of it. Senator, do you
stand by this letter?
Obama letters below]
Letter to Obama
February 6, 2006
The Honorable Barack Obama
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Obama:
I would like to apologize to you for assuming that your private assurances to
me regarding your desire to cooperate in our efforts to negotiate bipartisan
lobbying reform legislation were sincere. When you approached me and insisted
that despite your leadership’s preference to use the issue to gain a political
advantage in the 2006 elections, you were personally committed to achieving a
result that would reflect credit on the entire Senate and offer the country a
better example of political leadership, I concluded your professed concern for
the institution and the public interest was genuine and admirable. Thank you
for disabusing me of such notions with your letter to me dated February 2,
2006, which explained your decision to withdraw from our bipartisan
discussions. I’m embarrassed to admit that after all these years in politics I
failed to interpret your previous assurances as typical rhetorical gloss
routinely used in politics to make self-interested partisan posturing appear
more noble. Again, sorry for the confusion, but please be assured I won’t make
the same mistake again.
As you know, the Majority Leader has asked Chairman Collins to hold hearings
and mark up a bill for floor consideration in early March. I fully support
such timely action and I am confident that, together with Senator Lieberman,
the Committee on Governmental Affairs will report out a meaningful, bipartisan
You commented in your letter about my “interest in creating a task force to
further study” this issue, as if to suggest I support delaying the
consideration of much-needed reforms rather than allowing the committees of
jurisdiction to hold hearings on the matter. Nothing could be further from the
truth. The timely findings of a bipartisan working group could be very helpful
to the committee in formulating legislation that will be reported to the full
Senate. Since you are new to the Senate, you may not be aware of the fact that
I have always supported fully the regular committee and legislative process in
the Senate, and routinely urge Committee Chairmen to hold hearings on
important issues. In fact, I urged Senator Collins to schedule a hearing upon
the Senate’s return in January.
Furthermore, I have consistently maintained that any lobbying reform proposal
be bipartisan. The bill Senators Joe Lieberman and Bill Nelson and I have
introduced is evidence of that commitment as is my insistence that members of
both parties be included in meetings to develop the legislation that will
ultimately be considered on the Senate floor. As I explained in a recent
letter to Senator Reid, and have publicly said many times, the American people
do not see this as just a Republican problem or just a Democratic problem.
They see it as yet another run-of-the-mill Washington scandal, and they expect
it will generate just another round of partisan gamesmanship and posturing.
Senator Lieberman and I, and many other members of this body, hope to exceed
the public’s low expectations. We view this as an opportunity to bring
transparency and accountability to the Congress, and, most importantly, to
show the public that both parties will work together to address our failings.
As I noted, I initially believed you shared that goal. But I understand how
important the opportunity to lead your party’s effort to exploit this issue
must seem to a freshman Senator, and I hold no hard feelings over your earlier
disingenuousness. Again, I have been around long enough to appreciate that in
politics the public interest isn’t always a priority for every one of us. Good
luck to you, Senator.
United States Senate
letter to McCain
February 6, 2006
The Honorable John McCain
United States Senate
241 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
During my short
time in the U.S. Senate, one of the aspects about this institution that I have
come to value most is the collegiality and the willingness to put aside
partisan differences to work on issues that help the American people. It was
in this spirit that I approached you to work on ethics reform, and it was in
this spirit that I agreed to attend your bipartisan meeting last week. I
appreciated then - and still do appreciate - your willingness to reach out to
me and several other Democrats.
reason, I am puzzled by your response to my recent letter. Last Wednesday
morning, you called to invite me to your meeting that afternoon. I changed my
schedule so I could attend the meeting. Afterwards, you thanked me several
times for attending the meeting, and we left pledging to work together.
As you will
recall, I told everyone present at the meeting that my caucus insisted that
the consideration of any ethics reform proposal go through the regular
committee process. You didn't indicate any opposition to this position at the
time, and I wrote the letter to reiterate this point, as well as the fact that
I thought S. 2180 should be the basis for a bipartisan solution
I confess that
I have no idea what has prompted your response. But let me assure you that I
am not interested in typical partisan rhetoric or posturing. The fact that you
have now questioned my sincerity and my desire to put aside politics for the
public interest is regrettable but does not in any way diminish my deep
respect for you nor my willingness to find a bipartisan solution to this
United States Senator
each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC.
© 2006 MSNBC
Boehner Suggests New Tack on Lobbying
Emphasis Would Be on
By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 4, 2006
House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has begun shifting his
party toward an alternative lobbying reform package that stresses disclosure
of lobbying contacts rather than the virtual ban on gifts and privately
funded trips proposed last month by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert
In an interview yesterday, Boehner emphasized that he has no plan to change
lobbying rules and will not draft one until he can reach a broad consensus
with House Republicans, possibly at a retreat on Maryland's Eastern Shore
next week. But he was quick to say the proposals that Hastert and House
Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) put forward are not the
Republican Conference's plan.
"We don't have a package," he said. "There are some ideas that the speaker
and Mr. Dreier have put out. They are very good ideas. I know Mr. Dreier is
working in a bipartisan way to refine those proposals, and until then it's a
work in progress."
The lobbying plan is probably the first hurdle Boehner faces as he seeks to
bring together a fractured Republican Conference and cope with a growing
congressional corruption scandal. As a sign of the abrupt shift in
leadership since Boehner was elected Thursday to succeed indicted Rep. Tom
DeLay (R-Tex.) as majority leader, House leadership aides who helped draft
Hastert's initial response said it will have to be pulled back.
"This is something we refer to as a false start," a senior aide said,
acknowledging that Hastert and other leaders had backed the Republicans into
a no-win situation. The leaders can either push forward with a plan most
Republicans oppose, or they can scrap it and read that they backed off the
toughest reform proposals.
"This is the problem the rank and file has with the leadership," the aide
said. "They feel they don't get listened to. They get these knee-jerk
reactions they don't like, but now that it's been rolled out, if we don't do
it, we'll get criticism all over again. That makes them even angrier because
they see it as self-inflicted."
Boehner's upset victory over acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) sprang
in large part from Republicans' fears that they had to distance themselves
from DeLay's leadership if they are to survive the midterm elections in
November. The corruption scandals have already led Rep. Randy "Duke"
Cunningham (R-Calif.) to plead guilty to bribery charges and resign, forced
Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) to give up his committee chairmanship, and
snared a guilty plea from former lobbyist Jack Abramoff -- and Republicans
In the closed-door electoral conclave Thursday, Rep. Mark Edward Souder (R-Ind.)
summed up that trepidation when first he told the conference he feared
retribution for what he was about to say, then continued: "Duke Cunningham,
Jack Abramoff, and the ongoing and disgusting saga of abuse of power and
public trust are not just made up by the Democrats," according to a
transcript of the speech released by Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.). "Our
entire philosophy is at risk because the American people, and even a large
percentage of our own supporters think we have been corrupted."
That is not how Blunt saw it.
"The five or six people that will talk to the media about what bad shape
we're in are not reflective of 225 of their colleagues," Blunt told the
Associated Press yesterday.
"I don't want to say the media is to blame but . . . if you can find a story
that focused on anything but change, you come and show it to me," he said.
The old leadership team's response to the scandal is already in for some
Where those leaders sought to separate lawmakers from lobbyists, Boehner
will emphasize the immediate disclosure of contacts between lobbyists and
lawmakers, allowing the voting public to decide whether those contacts are
proper. And he will tackle what many Republicans see as the root of the
lobbying problem -- the ease with which lawmakers can dole out millions of
dollars in favors through pet provisions in spending bills.
Boehner said he endorsed only "in concept" a bill by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) that would make every such provision -- or
"earmark" -- subject to challenge on the House or Senate floor. But he did
say: "We need less numbers of earmarks. I think they've grown out of
control, and we need more transparency -- where they come from, what their
purposes are -- and we need more accountability."
Hastert's proposal to end all privately funded trips, even those funded by
well-known nonprofit organizations such as the Aspen Institute, would be
counterproductive, Boehner said. Members could be required to seek
preapproval from the House ethics committee of any trip, he said.
But, he added, "members need to understand what's happening in the world.
They need to understand what's happening with industry. That won't happen if
they're locked up in a cubbyhole here in the Capitol."
Boehner called for the disclosure of any meal or gift from a lobbyist within
24 hours, both by the lawmaker and the lobbyist.
"If you can't go out and
justify a $60 meal and see it in the press, then maybe you shouldn't go," he
said. "But if you can, go ahead and do it, and let the world see what that
relationship was. I think that's a far smarter way to go about this."
The lobbying industry should be better regulated, Boehner said, and he
pledged to convene a House task force in hopes of creating federal rules
that incorporate the most effective measures already in place in the states.
Those proposals are receiving mixed reviews from watchdog groups. If
Boehner's task force produced an independent public integrity board
patterned after those in many states, that could be the most effective
proposal so far, said Mary Boyle, a spokesman for the watchdog group Common
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