House Democrats' Lobby Reform Bill
By Kenneth P. Doyle and Jonathon Nicholson
Leaves Out Reformers' Key Demands
A lobbying and ethics reform bill backed by House Democratic leaders and set to be introduced late May 15 will not include any of four key provisions sought by political reform groups, but the reformers said they still hoped the provisions would be added as amendments.
"We're going to judge this on the final product that passes the House," Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer said when asked to comment on the long-awaited Democratic leadership bill.
The bill was discussed in a closed-door, members-only meeting of the Democratic caucus on May 15, and lawmakers hope to have a final draft of the measure ready for a committee markup in the House Judiciary Committee by May 17, according to Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Amendments to the reform bill could be offered either in committee or on the House floor. Key amendments are expected to include one supported by Pelosi and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) that would require disclosure of campaign contributions "bundled" by lobbyists. Reform groups said they hoped Pelosi's support would aid passage of the bundling measure, which they have indicated is their highest priority.
Another amendment to require disclosure of paid grass-roots lobbying is expected to be offered by Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.).
Cleta Mitchell, an attorney with the firm of Foley & Lardner working with groups opposed to the grass-roots lobbying provision, said she was pleased the provision would not be in the Democrats' base bill, putting her side in a stronger position for the coming debate over the measure. Mitchell said the grass-roots provision raises serious First Amendment concerns and she believed Democratic leaders were being "thoughtful" in considering whether to support it, rather than listening only to the arguments of the groups pushing for tougher rules.
Other lawmakers are expected to offer proposals to add other provisions supported by reform groups, including measures slowing the "revolving door" between government service and lobbying and restricting lobbyist-funded parties at political conventions.
Democrats Struggle With Bill
Commenting after the Democratic caucus meeting, a member of the House leadership, Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), who is vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said there was extensive discussion among lawmakers about the implications of the measures being discussed. He said there were concerns about what new bundling disclosure provisions would really require, as well as an airing of concerns about the grass-roots lobbying and revolving-door proposals.
"The good news is, I think there was general resolve in the caucus that ... we need to further digest and see the details of this and then let's pragmatically and practically move forward," Larson said. There was agreement on some issues but also "discord in a number of key areas," he added. "We're going to work to try and iron those out."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) in comments before the caucus meeting said that the bill being brought forward by Democratic leaders included all the items in a measure they supported in the last Congress called the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. Hoyer acknowledged that the new bill does not include disclosure of bundled campaign money but said the issue was still being discussed.
Bundling "is very complicated proposition," Hoyer said, adding that questions include "who reports, how you report, what you report." He said: "It's not a simple thing to figure out. How you do it? And we have been grappling with that."
Bundling Amendment Under Wraps
After markup in the Judiciary Committee, the lobbying bill is still expected to go the House floor the week of May 21, said Elshami, Pelosi's spokesman. Before going to the floor, the measure will first have to go through the House Rules Committee, which will decide what amendments to allow during the floor debate.
Elshami confirmed that Pelosi would support an amendment to require disclosure of lobbyists' bundled contributions, but said details of the proposal were not yet available. A new requirement for bundling disclosure would be in addition to the current requirements under campaign finance law, which mandate that direct campaign contributions of more than $200 be itemized and reported to the Federal Election Commission.
The Senate-passed version of the lobbying and ethics reform bill (S. 1) includes a provision requiring each lobbyist to include in periodic reports filed under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) all money he or she has "collected or arranged" to be provided to an individual lawmakers' campaign or "leadership" political action committee or to a political party committee. Lobbyists also would have to disclose any fund-raising events that they host for a lawmaker.
Many of the less-controversial provisions of the Senate reform bill, such as increased frequency of reporting of direct lobbying contacts under the current LDA, have long been expected to be accepted easily by the House. But, months of discussions among House Democratic leaders have been aimed at resolving the thornier issues involved in the reform bill.
The four toughest issues have included reformers' calls for disclosure of lobbyists' bundled campaign contributions, as well as disclosure of paid grass-roots lobbying, post-employment restrictions on the transition between government service and lobbying, and curbs on lobbyist-sponsored convention festivities.
Longer 'Cooling-Off Period.'
The House Democratic leadership bill avoids provisions on any of these items, except for a proposal to increase from one to two years the "cooling off" period for a lawmaker or other top official to wait after leaving office before becoming a lobbyist. Even this provision falls short, however, of reformers demands to restrict all "lobbying activity" and not just direct lobbying contacts covered under current law.
The Senate bill contains provisions on three of the four key items called for by reformers: bundling, post-employment restrictions, and convention parties. The only item left out was a provision on disclosure of large payments to consulting firms for grass-roots lobbying efforts. That provision was dropped from the Senate reform bill by a 55-43 vote on the Senate floor last January.
House Democrats have promised since the beginning of the year to bring up a bill to beef up lobbying and ethics laws, which will have to be reconciled with the measure passed by the Senate. The House did adopt changes in its internal ethics rules in January, mainly restricting gifts and paid travel that lawmakers may accept from lobbyists and lobbying organizations.
Democrats took majority control of the House and Senate in last November's elections as a series of scandals plagued congressional Republicans. Democrats are now under pressure from reform groups to deliver on promises to change lobbying and ethics rules and clean up Capitol Hill. At the same time, however, Democrats' newfound majority status has made them the biggest recipients of campaign money from lobbyists and others--a fact that has increased the wariness of some Democratic leaders about passing strict new rules.
In addition to work on the lobbying and ethics reform bill, House Democrats also launched earlier this year a special task force to make recommendations about a possible new "outside entity" to augment the ethics enforcement efforts of the existing congressional ethics committees. Reformers said May 15, however, that they now expect the bipartisan House task force headed by Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) to make recommendations that fall short of their goals.
Craig Holman of Public Citizen said he expected the task force to recommend a larger congressional ethics staff that would have no new powers to receive complaints or conduct independent, preliminary investigations. Holman said the new plan "would make it worse" on the ethics front because of proposals to allow the ethics staff to dismiss cases at the behest of the ethics committee members without requiring the members to be accountable for such dismissals.
Reproduced with permission from Daily Report for Executives, No. 94 (May 16, 2007) pp. A-34-A-36. Copyright 2007 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033) http://www.bna.com