Thursday, March 30, 2006

Senate Passes Lobbying Bill; Votes Down Independent Ethics Office

As Jeffrey Birnbaum reports here (ethics office) and here (lobbying bill) in the Washington Post, the Senate passed a watered-down lobbying bill this week, while voting 67-30 against the creation of an independent office of public integrity.

Congress made a lot of noise about lobby reform in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal. Abramoff, a lobbyist par putrescence, had used campaign contributions from himself and his clients to gain access and influence with key members of Congress and within the Bush Administration. This campaign cash was supplemented by a string of lucrative job placements for the staffers of key members when they left the public payroll. Abramoff also had his clients funnel cash to nonprofits which were run by the staffers and often used to further the political agenda of the staffer's former employers.

The lobbying bill passed by the Senate would do nothing to limit the ability of lobbyists to influence public officials with campaign cash, far and away the largest factor not only in allowing the creation of Jack Abramoff but in putting our government into the pockets of financially powerful interests.

What the Senate bill does do:
1) Prohibits lobbyists from buying meals for members of Congress. (yes, they could do this before)
2) Prohibits lobbyists from giving gifts to members of Congress. (yup, this too)
3) Increases lobbyist reporting from twice a year to four times a year.
4) Provides disclosure of "grassroots" lobbying efforts.

What the Senate bill doesn't do:
1) Reduce the size of campaign contributions lobbyists and their wealthy employers can give to members to curry favor.
2) Require lobbyists and members of Congress (and their staffs) to disclose when they meet and what they talk about.
3) Prohibit privately-paid travel by members of Congress.
4) Create an independent office of public integrity to ensure ethics and reporting rules are enforced.

So, lobbyists and their wealthy employers will still throw their cash around to make sure their guy or gal gets into office. Once there, the lobbyists and their employer can still meet in secret with the member without the public ever knowing the extent of influence any given interest had in crafting or opposing legislation.

In other words, under the Senate bill, it will be business as usual in Washington. Thanks for nothing.

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