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Created: January 6, 2006
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Index of Topics on Site Backup of Republicans Propose Restrictions On Lobbying
Some Object to Banning Privately Funded Trips

By Jonathan Weisman
SOURCE: Washington Post
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Republicans Propose Restrictions On Lobbying
Some Object to Banning Privately Funded Trips

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 18, 2006; A01

Republican leaders proposed broad new restrictions yesterday on the lobbying of Congress, including a ban on privately funded travel for members, tight curbs on meals and other gifts from lobbyists, and an end to access to the House and Senate floors and congressional gyms for former lawmakers who register as lobbyists.

The House and Senate proposals are the latest GOP effort to try to respond to a growing bribery and corruption scandal spawned by the activities of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Many of the proposals tackle practices so prevalent that they hardly raise an eyebrow, such as the trips to Jamaica and Hawaii that House members from both parties embarked on just last week.

Indeed, measures that would have had little chance of approval a year ago are on the fast track to passage. House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) said the House will vote Feb. 1 -- the first day of the chamber's session -- on ending former lawmakers' congressional access. The broader package of rule changes could be ready for a full House vote by mid-March.

"We need to reform the rules so that it is clear, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what is ethically acceptable," said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) met with reporters to discuss a far-ranging plan that they are putting together for action in February or March.

ut Republicans are far from unified on how to proceed, with some even defending lobbyist-financed travel. Some lawmakers say GOP leaders are blaming lobbyists rather than examining the legislative processes that have invited corruption, such as the proliferation of home-district pork-barrel projects that have become prime ways to reward campaign supporters.

"Many trips are truly educational, and I believe a complete ban on all private travel would be an overreaction that doesn't get to the root of the problem," said Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), one of three candidates vying to succeed Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) as House majority leader.

Democrats stayed on the attack yesterday, hoping to prevent Republicans from distancing themselves from the burgeoning corruption scandal that helped push DeLay to permanently relinquish his claims to the position of majority leader and over the weekend forced Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) to temporarily step down as chairman of the House Administration Committee.

"For more than a decade, Speaker Hastert and House Republicans have benefited from their systemic culture of corruption at the expense of the American people," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who plans to announce today, along with Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), proposals that match, and in some ways exceed, the Republican plans. "Today, the Republicans' so-called lobbying reform proposal sticks a Band-Aid on a gaping wound," Pelosi said.

Senate Democrats sent a letter to President Bush demanding that he make public all contacts Abramoff had with the administration. "The American people need to be assured that the White House is not for sale," they wrote.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Abramoff attended two Hanukkah receptions during Bush's first term and had "a few" meetings with presidential aides, but he would not say who, when or why. "We are not going to engage in a fishing expedition," McClellan said.

With proposals emerging in the House and the Senate, even the harshest critics of congressional ethics say meaningful changes could be coming. The proposal to completely ban privately funded travel, endorsed now by Republican and Democratic leaders in both chambers, goes well beyond the changes initially expected, said Fred Wertheimer, president of the congressional watchdog group Democracy 21.

For instance, a lobbyist-funded trip to Scotland, ostensibly for educational purposes, might be banned under new lobbying rules. But if those rules do not change fundraising guidelines, the same trip could be privately financed as long as it is characterized as a campaign event and includes the exchange of a campaign check.

McCain said yesterday that he is aware of that loophole: "We will fix that," he pledged.

Neither the House nor the Senate proposal has been written, but Republican lawmakers from both chambers laid out their principles yesterday: Lawmakers may not accept travel from organizations staffed or funded by lobbyists. Dreier said the House will pattern gift restrictions on those that now govern the White House. Lawmakers would be barred from accepting any meal or gift worth more than $20 and could take gifts worth no more than $50 from each giver over the course of a year.

Democrats plan to propose a total ban today.

Under the House Republican and Democratic plans, lawmakers and senior staff members would have to wait two years before lobbying Congress, replacing the one-year ban currently in effect.

Lawmakers convicted of a felony related to their official duties would lose their congressional pensions under the GOP plan. Lobbyists and others seeking favors in Congress would have to publicly detail more of their activities and reveal them more frequently than the quarterly disclosures now required.

Under the Democratic proposal, lobbyists would have to certify that they have not violated lobbying rules or face criminal sanctions, just as chief executives have to sign off on corporate financial statements.

Hastert said some restrictions would be placed on lawmakers' ability to slip pet projects, or earmarks, into legislation.

Finally, the legislation would include some measures to clamp down on "527" organizations, which can raise unlimited amounts of money from anonymous donors and use the funds to influence elections, as long as they are ostensibly independent of political parties and candidates.

In recent elections, such organizations -- financed by labor unions, corporations and donors such as George Soros -- have largely sided with Democrats, but conservatives are also using the loophole to fund "issue ads," such as the Swift boat veterans' attacks on 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry.

Santorum said the Senate Republican proposal would include the House's travel ban, a prohibition on attending sporting and cultural events with lobbyists, and an end to lobbying by lawmakers' spouses and relatives. That provision, not among the House GOP principles, could affect acting House Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), whose wife, Abigail, lobbies the Senate for the parent of tobacco company Philip Morris.

McCain said he would also like to make it illegal for lawmakers to hire lobbyists as treasurers or chairmen of their campaign or political action committees.

2006 The Washington Post Company

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