Friday, August 03, 2007
I certainly hope that there weren't any Senators that didn't vote for this ethics and lobbying reform. Although this bill does not go far enough to curtail the soft money in Washington, it is as least a step in the right direction. The sooner we can get corporate money out of our politics, the sooner we can have our democracy back. Am I going to be a cynical Cecil and say this isn't possible? No, I'm not. It is certainly going to be difficult, but it is not impossible. We have to elect candidates to the House and Senate who have taken a pledge not to accept any donations from corporate donors, or to not accept the gifts of lobbyists in Washington once elected. This will not only put the lobbyists out a job, but it will put the corporations back where they belong. The following article come from the New York Times.
| The following is a list of Senators who voted no on the legislation. |
August 3, 2007
Congress Backs Tighter Rules on Lobbying
By JEFF ZELENY and CARL HULSE
WASHINGTON, Aug. 2 — The Senate gave final approval Thursday to a far-reaching package of new ethics and lobbying rules, with an overwhelming majority of Republicans and Democrat agreeing to improve policing of the relationship between lawmakers and lobbyists.
If President Bush signs the bill into law, members of Congress would face a battery of new restrictions. The legislation, approved by the Senate on a vote of 83 to 14, calls for bans on gifts, meals and travel paid for by lobbyists and makes it more difficult for lawmakers to capitalize quickly on their connections when joining the private sector.
The measure, which grew out of scandals that have tarnished the image of Congress, represents a cultural shift in the traditions of Capitol Hill. While proponents hailed the measure as the most significant reform since Watergate, open questions remained on how some provisions would be enforced and whether the measure would change lawmakers’ ability to secure pet projects known as earmarks.
Still, the legislation does require greater disclosure about how the projects are chosen, with an effort to shed light on backroom dealing at the root of scandals that landed four lawmakers in jail and contributed to Republicans losing control of Congress last year. The bill also requires lawmakers to disclose the names of lobbyists who raise $15,000 in contributions in a six-month period through the bundling of donations.
The measure also abolishes the practice of discounted rides on private planes, requiring senators as well as candidates for the Senate or the White House to pay full charter rates for trips. House members would be barred from accepting free trips on private planes.
“Regardless of how reforms might impact us, our priority must be to convince our constituents that we are here to advocate their best interests, not those of well-connected lobbyists,” said Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin. “Ethical conduct in government should be more than an aspiration. It should be a requirement.”
The legislation brings a close — for the moment, anyway — to quarreling among Democrats and Republicans over charges of corruption. The debate came amid a widening corruption investigation involving Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, the longest-serving Republican, and only weeks after Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, was linked to a prostitution scandal. Both senators voted for the bill.
Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican and longtime advocate of ethics overhaul, opposed the legislation, saying it did far too little.
“This will continue the earmarking and pork-barrel projects,” Mr. McCain said. “We are passing up a great opportunity and again the American people will have been deceived.”
For a special project to be approved, lawmakers would be required to publicize their plans 48 hours before the Senate votes on them. The projects could not directly benefit the member of Congress or a family member. One loophole, though, allows lawmakers to say such disclosure is not “technically feasible” or the majority leader could waive the provision.
Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, said the earmarks had “turned Congress into a giant favor factory for special interests.”
“This bill is actually worse than doing nothing,” Mr. DeMint said of the legislation approved by the House on Tuesday and by the Senate on Thursday, “because it preserves business as usual and fools people into thinking that things are fixed.”
Since January, when separate ethics and lobbying bills passed the House and Senate, Mr. DeMint has blocked efforts to form a conference committee to reach a compromise. So Democratic leaders, eager to make good on a promise after taking control of Congress, worked behind closed doors to develop the bill that was passed in both chambers.
Emily Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman, said Mr. Bush did not believe the earmarking provisions were as strict as they should be.
“We are continuing to review this legislation,” Ms. Lawrimore said in an interview Thursday evening. But a veto was seen as highly unlikely, officials said, as many of the changes would be enacted through Congressional rules over which the president has no control.
Senator Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat who was tapped by leaders to oversee ethics overhaul, said the legislation would “ensure that committees aren’t slipping in earmarks in the
dead of night.”
After overcoming resistance inside his own party, Mr. Obama pushed for a provision requiring, for the first time, disclosure by lobbyists who bundle political contributions of more than $15,000 in six months.
“My argument was that it was worth it for us to try to be aggressive on this front, particularly since we were just coming into power,” Mr. Obama said, adding that he wished the rules could be enforced by an outside group. “I do think that the public would have more confidence in the process if we had an independent enforcement mechanism.”
The legislation is designed to limit the social interaction between lobbyists and lawmakers, making it more difficult for them to get together at sporting events, parties at national political conventions and other social activities.
The bill also deprives former members of Congress who now work as lobbyists of some of the privileges that critics say give them an advantage in pushing legislation. The measure revokes floor privileges to former lawmakers who are lobbying, and denies them access to the House and Senate gyms, other exercise facilities and members-only parking.
Also tucked into the 107-page measure are several Senate procedural changes intended to curb a practice that has become more common in recent years: adding surprise, last-minute provisions to bills.
Until now, lawmakers could only challenge what they call “dead-of-night” provisions by objecting to the entire bill, an uphill battle because most members of Congress are reluctant to block major legislation on the verge of enactment over a single element. Under the bill, senators will be able to try to kill select provisions without endangering the entire bill.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the Rules Committee, welcomed the change, saying the former practice “has been a bane of our existence for a long time.”
The lobbying restrictions also have implications for senior Congressional staff members. The one- and two-year bans on contacts with Congressional officials also apply to the staff members earning more than 75 percent of the salary earned by lawmakers, who make about $165,200. That description prevents top aides from watering down their titles .
Of the 516 members of Congress who voted on the legislation this week, only 22 lawmakers voted against it. Still, several argued that some provisions have unintended consequences. “Does that mean I have to refuse the key to a city since cities have their own lobbyists?" said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, who voted for the bill. “How about a 22-year-old staff assistant who has to wait tables to make ends meet? What happens when they wait on a lobbyist, do they have to refuse their tips?”