Last November, Americans sent a clear message that unethical and illegal behavior would no longer be tolerated in the halls of Congress. Democrats answered the charge to clean-up Washington by making ethics reform their first priority in the 110th Congress. In January, Senate Democrats honored that commitment by passing S.1, the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007. With the help of the House of Representatives, Democrats were poised to do what the last Congress would not: Pass the toughest, most sweeping ethics and lobbying reform in a generation.
In June, however, this major victory for the American people was sidelined by Senate Republicans, who blocked the bill from going to conference with the House. These obstructionist tactics serve only to delay, not stop, the effort to take the country in a new direction by ensuring transparency and accountability in Washington. Undeterred, Democrats are committed to overcoming this objection and restoring the American people’s faith in government by getting an ethics reform bill to the President’s desk.
The American people are fed-up with corruption and abuse in Washington. Faced with the Abramoff scandal, criminal indictments, resignations, and the Republican K Street project, 42 percent of voters listed corruption in Washington as the most important factor in determining who they voted for in the last election. Making ethics reform the first bill of the new Congress was a significant step on the road to restoring their faith. (CNN, “Corruption named as key issue by voters in exit polls,” 11/8/06)
Senate Democrats worked in a bipartisan manner to pass comprehensive ethics and lobbying reform. S.1, the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007, passed overwhelmingly in the Senate on January 18, 2007 on a 96-2 vote. The House of Representatives passed similar measures.
If Republicans do not stand in the way of meaningful reform, S.1 will strengthen internal Senate rules regarding gifts and travel, slow the “revolving door” for former Senators and staff, enhance and better enforce lobbying disclosures, reduce “dead of night” changes to conference reports, require earmark transparency, and ban the pay-to-play K Street Project. Together, Congressional Democrats are working to change the way business is done in Washington, D.C.
Washington watch-dog groups praised the passage of ethics reform. Fred Wertheimer, President of Democracy 21, applauded “Senate Democrats for standing firm for this critical ethics and lobbying reform legislation” and expressed his belief that the reforms would “change the way business is done in the Senate.” Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), called S.1 “a promising move towards a cleaner Congress” and noted that “Majority Leader Harry Reid and the full Senate deserve credit for passing legislation that tackles many of the ethics issues that plagued the last Congress.” Mary Wilson, President of the League of Women Voters (LWV), recognized that “voters . . . expressed a clear dissatisfaction with the unbridled level of corruption in Congress, and . . . passage of ethics and lobbying reform indicates their voices are at last being heard.” (Democracy 21, press release, 01/18/07; CREW, press release, 01/19/07; LWV, press release, 01/19/07)
SUMMARY OF MAJOR PROVISIONS
Senators voted to toughen rules governing gifts and travel. S.1 would:
· Ban gifts, including de minimis gifts, from registered lobbyists, agents of a foreign principal, or a private entity that retains or employs a lobbyist or foreign agent;
· Require that the market value of a sporting or entertainment event ticket be equal to the ticket’s face value or, if there is no face value, the cost of the most expensive ticket;
· Prohibit a Senator from participating in an event to honor him/her at a national party convention that is paid for by a lobbyist or a lobbyist’s client.
· Extend the ban on travel paid for by lobbyists or agents of foreign principals to include restrictions on travel paid for by private entities that retain or employ lobbyists or foreign agents (an exception would be made for one day trips or trips paid for by 501(c)(3) (charitable) organizations);
· Prohibit lobbyists from participating in privately paid congressional travel.
· Require that Senators and staff receive approval from the Ethics Committee before accepting expenses for any trip and that, within 30 days, a Senator’s trips paid for by private sources be disclosed on the Internet; and
· Require members to pay full charter rates for travel on non-commercial planes.
Senators voted to slow “the revolving door” for former Senators and staff. The legislation would:
· Amend the Senate rules and federal conflict of interest law to ban former senior staff (persons making 75 percent of a Senator’s salary) from lobbying anyone in the Senate for one year, not just his/her former Senator or committee;
· Amend conflict of interest law to increase the “cooling off” period, in which former Members of Congress are barred from lobbying Congress, from one year to two; and
· Amend conflict of interest law to increase the “cooling off” period for former “very senior” executive branch officials, including cabinet members, from one year to two.
The Senate voted to require disclosure of private employment negotiations. S.1 would:
· Amend the Senate rules to require a sitting Senator to publicly disclose private employment negotiations, until his/her successor has been elected. Irrespective of disclosure, a Senator would be prohibited from engaging in negotiations for lobbying related jobs until after his/her successor has been elected; and
· Require a senior staff member to disclose to the Ethics Committee employment negotiations and to recuse him/herself from official matters that would create or appear to create a conflict of interest given those negotiations.
Senators voted to prohibit staff contact with lobbyists who are family members of their Senator. S.1 wouldamend the Senate rules to prohibit staff from being lobbied by any member of their Senator’s immediate family, or the spouse of any Senator, who is a registered lobbyist or is retained by a registered lobbyist to influence legislation.
The Senate voted to significantly expand lobbying disclosure requirements related to lobbyists. S.1 would:
· Require quarterly, rather than semiannually, filing of disclosure reports;
· Require disclosure of contributions to federal candidates and leadership PACs by lobbyists;
· Required lobbyists to disclose various other contributions made to entities related to Senators, Presidential libraries, and Inaugural committees;
· Establish new rules for the disclosure of bundling;
· Require registrants to disclose in their registration statements all past executive and congressional employment within the past decade;
· Increase the civil penalty up to $200,000 for failing to comply with disclosure requirements;
· Increase the criminal penalties, up to 5 years imprisonment, for knowing, willful and corrupt violations of LDA provisions; and
· Prohibit registered lobbyists from providing gifts or travel to members of Congress or congressional staff that the lobbyist knows would violate congressional rules.
The legislation would also require the creation of a searchable, sortable database that contains information included on LDA disclosure reports.
Senators voted to prohibit partisan efforts like the K Street project. The legislation would amend the Senate rules to prohibit a Senator from threatening to take or withhold official action in order to influence the employment decisions or practices of a private entity on the basis of partisan political affiliation.
The Senate voted to deny pensions to former Members convicted of certain crimes. The legislation would require that Members of Congress convicted of bribery or illegal gratuities, or associated crimes, based on acts committed after the effective date, forfeit their federal pension.
Senators voted to protect the integrity of conference reports. S.1 would permit a point of order against individual items contained in conference reports that have not been committed to the conferees by either legislative body. This legislation would also prohibit consideration of conference reports unless the report had been provided to all Senators and made available on the Internet for at least 48 hours. The bill would also prohibit consideration of a conference report unless the official Congressional Budget Office estimate or table is available at the time of consideration.
The Senate voted to provide greater transparency to the earmark process. S.1 would create a point of order against a motion to proceed to consideration of a bill, joint resolution, or conference report if the names of congressional sponsors of certain earmarks are not disclosed on the internet 48 hours in advance. Disclosure of classified earmark sponsors would also be required in the unclassified language of the measure. In addition to their name, sponsors would have to submit to the committee of jurisdiction: the purpose of the earmark; the name and address of the recipient (or location of the activity) for spending earmarks or the beneficiary for tax or tarrif benefit earmarks; and a certification that the Member or Member’s spouse has no pecuniary interest in the earmark.
The bill would also amend the Senate rules to prohibit a Senator or staff from using his/her official position work for a congressional earmark that would financially benefit the Senator, or his/her immediate family member.