Washington, DC — With Bush Republicans poised to jam through the House of Representatives a “lobbying reform” bill that they gutted of any actual reform in order to open the floodgates of money to Republican candidates, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid today delivered the following remarks on the Floor of the U.S. Senate.
The text of Senator Reid’s remarks, as prepared, is below.
Mr. President, I rise today to express my opposition to and grave disappointment with the lobbying and ethics reform bill House Republicans are expected to pass today.
The House “reform” legislation is just another example of the Orwellian world in which Republicans live. Whatever they say a bill will do, believe the opposite. Their Clean Skies bill led to more pollution, their No Child Left Behind Act left millions of children behind, and now their Lobbying Accountability and Transparency Act has the potential to wipe transparency right out of our political process.
House Republicans have completely abandoned the idea of reforming Washington. Instead–like a wolf in sheep’s clothing–they are using the cover of the word “reform” to advance blatant partisan changes to campaign finance law–changes that will hurt Democrats and help Republican candidates in the coming elections.
Their approach to reform stands in stark contrast to what we did on a bipartisan basis in the Senate.
Almost one month ago, Republicans joined Democrats here to pass a lobbying reform bill -the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. That bill was based largely on a bill Democrats introduced the first week of this session. The legislation the Senate passed was not as good as the Democratic bill, but it was an improvement over the status quo, and imposed needed reforms so that government served the people, not the special interests.
Unfortunately, the bipartisan commitment to reform we had in the Senate has been completely abandoned in the House.
Instead of passing a tough bill like we did, House Republicans have ignored the wishes of millions of America, gutted all lobbying and ethics reforms from their legislation, and instead filled it with partisan campaign finance measures that are intended to help them in the coming election.
Essentially, they’ve opened the floodgates so that they can pour money into Republican campaigns.
It seems House Republicans don’t believe they can convince the American people to send them back to Washington if they play by the rules. So–like their old Leader Tom DeLay–they’re seeking to change the rules in time to influence the fall elections.
Here’s an example. The House bill aims to disable so called 527 groups. These are groups that operate independently of our parties and bring more people into the political process. They fund get-out-the-vote-activities and help register voters, among other things.
Notably, the House bill wouldn’t shut down spending by all independent groups – no, the House would leave Republican-leaning 501(c)(6) trade associations free to raise and spend soft money for all the same types of activities as 527 groups.
These trade associations like Americans for Job Security spend millions in ads to help elect Republican candidates. Nearly every Republican member of the Senate elected last cycle benefited by ads run by this group. Those ads were funded with soft money.
You won’t find trade associations mentioned in the House bill. That makes no sense. We know less about the Republican groups than we do 527 organizations. That’s because 527s are required to disclose donors and how they spend those dollars. There is no such requirement for trade associations.
Here’s another even more significant example of the tricks House Republicans are playing. The House bill repeals the critical limits on national party giving to individual campaigns.
Right now, the Republican National Committee may only direct a limited amount of funding to individual congressional and presidential campaigns according to a specified formula. The House would do away with those limits. What would that mean?
It means that the RNC could give unlimited amounts to candidates in this cycle and to presidential candidates in 2008. That’s no small matter when you consider that the RNC has roughly over $40 million on hand.
This provision made its way into an amendment filed by Senator McCain on lobbying reform, but the amendment was never offered and the Senate bill remained clean of such rollbacks.
Democrats and Republicans alike have supported these restrictions because they are critical to protecting our political process from corruption in fact and in appearance.
The authors of the last major reform bill, Senators McCain and Feingold, in an amicus brief involving these limits called them “essential … to maintain the public’s confidence in the integrity of our political system” and “indispensable to any [campaign finance] regulatory program”.
Without such limits, the Senators argued that “the public’s faith and participation in the political process will continue to decline.” Such expenditures, they argued “create at least the perception that those who donate large sums to political parties . . . may enjoy positions of ‘improper influence.'”
I think those were wise words by Senators McCain and Feingold, and I think we all ought to live by them.
In the wake of Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, and Duke Cunningham, Americans are looking for us to change course. The House bill will keep us headed in the wrong direction, and for that reason, Democrats will stand opposed.
The United States Congress must not ignore the American people’s desire to clean up Washington.
In January–when Americans across the country we’re crying out for reform–Democrats took the lead and fundamentally changed the debate on ethics and lobbying reform. Thanks to our work, we passed some significant reforms that will ensure the government of the people focuses on the needs of the people.
I would hate to see these efforts sabotaged and ultimately fail because the House majority has backed away from real reform and instead has decided that this legislation should be a vehicle to advance a partisan campaign finance agenda.
If the trial of Tom Delay and prison terms for Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham don’t convince the Republican Party to clean up its act, Americans should begin to wonder what will.