Congress Set to Hammer Out Competing Lobbying Reform Bills

The House effort, which passed on a largely party-line vote of 217-213, is the first effort to reform lobbying in nearly a decade.

Provisions include requiring lobbyists to file activity reports quarterly, instead of semiannually, random audits of lobbyist reports, and a list of earmarks and sponsors added to appropriation bills. Earmarks are narrow-interest projects that lawmakers could slip into spending bills anonymously.

The bill also temporarily bans corporate financed trips until more permanent rules are in place by June 15.

“Our aim, our goal, is a Congress that is effective, a Congress that is ethical and a Congress that is worthy of the public trust,” said the House bill’s chief sponsor and Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif.

However many House Democrats, whose alternative bill was rejected 216-213 in a previous vote, felt that the bill did not go far enough.

“When lobbyists write the lobbying reform bill, we end up with a ruse that winks at reform and does nothing to curtail the culture of corruption,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

The bill falls well short of reforms proposed by Republicans in January, following GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s guilty plea for conspiring to bribe public officials. Abramoff reportedly used expensive meals, golf vacations and complementary airline flights to influence lawmakers.

The Senate’s bill, which must be merged with the House’s, passed by a 90-8 vote in March, just hours after Abramoff was sentenced to six years in prison for the fraudulent purchase of a cruise line.

Unlike the House bill, the Senate measure addresses the “revolving door” policy among Capital Hill lawmakers and senior aides who leave Congress and become lobbyists. The bill requires a minimum of two years, instead of the current one, before lobbying former colleagues.

The House bill did not change the current maximum of $50 for meals and gifts for representatives. The Senate agreed to ban the giving of any gifts or meals.

The Senate also voted to pass a provision that would create an independent Office of Public Integrity to investigate possible ethics violations, but it failed 30-67.

“There’s a sign that’s now up in front of the Capitol,” Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said after the Senate vote. “It says ‘Not for Sale.'”

The passage of the bill by November midterm elections is seen as key to the Republican effort to bolster President Bush’s sagging approval numbers.