Senate OKs lobbyist reforms
The Senate, responding to voter frustration with corruption and special interest influence in Washington, on Thursday overwhelmingly approved...
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The Senate, responding to voter frustration with corruption and special interest influence in Washington, on Thursday overwhelmingly approved far-reaching ethics and lobbying reform legislation.
Under the bill, passed 96-2, senators will give up gifts and free travel from lobbyists, pay more for travel on corporate jets and make themselves more accountable for the pet projects they insert into bills.
The House is scheduled to take up legislation next month that, like the Senate bill, would change lobbying law and require a House-Senate compromise.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who made the bill his first initiative as head of the chamber, called it the "most significant legislation in ethics and lobbying reform we've had in the history of this country."
The Senate rejected the idea of setting up an independent office to investigate the ethical breaches of members. But it said spouses of sitting members will no longer be able to lobby the Senate, and lobbyists can no longer pay for extravagant parties for members at national conventions.
Passage of the bill came a day after the measure appeared dead, the victim of a test of will between the two parties.
Republicans were angry they could not get a vote on a proposal giving the president, with congressional approval, more power to kill single spending items in larger bills. So GOP senators voted against a resolution needed to move the bill to final passage.
Ethics and lobbying bill
Among key provisions of the ethics and lobbying bill passed by the Senate Thursday.
• Bar lawmakers from accepting gifts and travel paid for by lobbyists.
• Extend from one to two years the time a former member must wait before he can engage in lobbying activities.
• Deny pensions to lawmakers convicted of serious crimes.
• Require more reporting by lobbyists on their activities.
• Require public disclosure of home-state projects.
• Require senators hitching rides on private jets to pay full charter rates rather than the current practice of paying the far-cheaper equivalent of a first-class ticket.
• Prevent spouses of sitting members from lobbying.
• Require reporting by lobbyists who obtain small donations from clients and then "bundle" them into larger contributions to politicians.
On Thursday morning, both sides accused the other of killing the bill and betraying the trust of voters. Under the agreement reached later Thursday, the GOP proposal's sponsor — Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H. — will be allowed to offer his proposal as part of the next bill to reach the Senate floor, a proposal to raise the minimum wage while giving small businesses several tax breaks. That will take place Monday.
The Senate, on a 55-43 vote, approved an amendment pushed by Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, to strip a provision requiring reporting of "grass-roots" lobbying.
Backers said the provision would shine light on interest groups that use "hired guns" to organize mass mailings, phone-ins or e-mail campaigns. Opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union and conservative groups such as the Traditional Values Coalition, argued that it was a free-speech issue, discouraging people or groups from organizing petition drives.
Voting against the bill were Republicans Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Orrin Hatch of Utah. Sens. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Tim Johnson, D-S.D., did not vote.
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