Senate Democrats

REID: THERE’S MORE WORK TO BE DONE TO CLEAN UP WASHINGTON

Washington, DC - Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid released the following statement on the Republican Senate’s rejection of a Democratic effort to strengthen lobbying reform legislation:

“As Senator Lott said this morning, Democrats came forward to clean up Washington with our Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. Now we are fighting on the Senate floor to strengthen this lobbying reform bill because we believe America can do better than the standard it proposes. I am disappointed that no Republican saw fit to join us in our effort to make these further reforms by voting for the amendment that Democrats offered today, but I hope we can still do more to improve this bill. The American people expect us to end the culture of corruption and get back to the people’s business.”

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A BREAKDOWN OF THE DEMOCRATIC AMENDMENT

Close the Revolving Door:

Summary of Democratic Amendment:

Prohibit sitting Members from negotiating for outside employment that could pose a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict, period. Require senior staff to disclose outside job negotiations, recuse self from decisions involving conflict or appearance, and provide notice of recusals. Require senior Executive Branch officials to disclose outside employment negotiations to independent Office of Government Ethics; require OGE approval for recusal waivers; recusal waivers made public.

Why Needed: Tauzin/Scully Experiences.

Tauzin: Then-Chairman of the House Commerce Committee was actively negotiating with industries his Committee regulated. Just weeks after he shepherded through the Medicare prescription drug bill, which included billions of dollars in benefits for the drug industry, PhRMA made him a $2 million offer. Concern over the clear conflict forced him to relinquish his Chairmanship.

Scully: In May 2003, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson gave Thomas Scully, chief administrator for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an ethics waiver allowing him to negotiate employment with firms in the drug industry he regulated. Scully subsequently acted as the White House’s head negotiator on the Medicare prescription drug bill, which included billions of dollars in benefits to clients of the very companies with which he was in employment talks. Just weeks after the bill passed, Scully announced he was joining one of these firms.

K Street Project: Stopping Abuse of Public Positions to Aid Partisan Allies

Summary of the Democratic Amendment

Make clear that it is a type of criminal bribery to take or withhold official action, or threaten to do so, to influence private hiring decisions on the basis of partisan political affiliation.

Why Needed: K Street Project Was Part and Parcel of Culture of Corruption

One of the many nefarious activities Jack Abramoff was involved in was the so-called K Street Project. In the mid-1990s, the Republican Congressional leadership began to try to force companies and industry associations to provide lucrative jobs to their partisan allies and to give donations only to Republicans. They even gave their new form of corruption a name – “the K Street Project.” Private entities who did not “pay” – by hiring key Republican staffers or increasing contributions to Republicans – were forbidden from being a part of the “play” – getting special access to Members and in some cases getting special interest provisions inserted into legislation.

Establish New Civil and Criminal Penalties to Combat Public Corruption

Summary of the Democratic Amendment:

Increase criminal penalties for false filings under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). Require all lobbyists to file quarterly certification that they did not provide gifts, including travel, in violation of Senate gift rules. Knowing and willful violations subject to steep penalties. Require trip sponsors to provide certification that trip complies with new trip rules. Knowing and willful violations subject to steep penalties.

Why Needed: Easier to Prosecute Wrongdoers

The Abramoff and Cunningham scandals have demonstrated that it is very difficult to prove bribery and other public corruption claims without the cooperation of those on the outside that were involved. The Democratic amendment would make it much easier to prove wrongdoing by increasing criminal penalties for “enabling activity” – false certifications and LDA disclosures that allow wrongdoers to shield their criminal behavior from scrutiny.

Prohibit Dead of Night Legislating

Summary of Democratic Amendment:

The amendment would add a new requirement under Rule XXVIII of the Standing Rules of the Senate to insure that each conference member be afforded an opportunity at an open meeting of the conference to vote on the full text of the conference report.

Why Needed: Leadership Slipping Special Interest Provisions Behind Closed Doors

Last year, after the conferees had finished their business on an important bill, the Republican Leadership added a special interest provision to the bill to shield vaccine makers from liability to people injured or killed by their products. Conferees were not allowed to vote on this provision, and had in fact been assured that it had not been included in the final bill.

Restricting Congressional Travel and Gifts

Summary of Democratic Amendment:

The amendment would prohibit Members and staff from receiving gifts from registered lobbyists. The amendment would allow privately funded travel only if paid for and sponsored by 501(c)(3) charitable and educational organizations which (a) are not affiliated with any organization that lobbied the Congress and (b) certify that there is no lobbyist involvement or participation.

Why Needed: Trips to St. Andrews and to the Super Bowl

While much privately-funded travel is valuable and completely legitimate, it is clear from revelations in the Abramoff case that the current rules have allowed for abuses to take place. Abramoff took DeLay, Ney and others on trips to Scotland that were not legitimate. Abramoff used trips to serve his clients’ special interests rather than the public interest. Abramoff took some House and Senate staffers to the Super Bowl and gave them $500 in gambling chips. The Democratic amendment prohibits lobbyist involvement or participation in privately-funded travel, limiting these trips to the type where the educational and business purpose clearly justifies the trip and there is little likelihood of improper influence.

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