• U.S.

Lobbying Limits?

2 minute read
Douglas Waller

On the day last week that lobbyist Jack Abramoff was sentenced to prison for fraud, the Senate passed a new ethics bill. The House will take up the issue next. Here’s a look at reforms Congress seems willing to accept:

What does the Senate bill do? It bars lobbyists from buying gifts and meals for legislators, but it leaves a big loophole: firms and organizations represented by those lobbyists may still dole out freebies. Privately funded trips would still be allowed if lawmakers get prior approval from the ethics committee. The bill would bar retiring legislators and senior aides from lobbying Congress for two years. It would also require lobbyists to file more frequent, more detailed reports on their activities, which would be posted on the Net.

What about the House version? That bill, which may come to a vote this month, contains similar disclosure requirements. But it would not limit meals or gifts–and would ban privately funded travel for just this year.

What else is missing from the two bills? Proposed but nixed: curbs on the millions of dollars that lobbyists funnel to campaigns and an independent in-house investigator to enforce the rules.

How would the bills affect lobbying on Capitol Hill? The Senate bill, claims cosponsor Christopher Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, would effectively put a NOT FOR SALE sign in front of the Capitol. But it is so weak that some reformers–including Republican John McCain and Democrat Russell Feingold–voted no. Both bills, says Fred Wertheimer, head of the nonpartisan Democracy 21 watchdog group, “leave lobbyists free to function in Congress exactly the way they have been functioning.”

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