Accessibility links

Democrats Propose Reforms to US Lobbying Rules

House Democrats are proposing extensive new reforms to rules for lobbyists who spend hundreds of millions of dollars to influence lawmakers on various issues before Congress.

The initiative by two House members stems in part from the controversy over a well-known lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, whose credit card was used to pay travel and other expenses for the House Majority Leader, Tom DeLay.

The complex story regarding Mr. Abramoff, who is the subject of a federal investigation on tax and other issues, has triggered a reaction in Congress.

Many members rushed to review records to make sure they were not in violation of rules prohibiting registered lobbyists from paying for travel of lawmakers or their aides.

Questions about Mr. Abramoff's involvement with lawmakers have not been limited to Republicans. New reports focused on two House Democrats, Congressmen Bennie Thompson and James Clyburn, after records showed Mr. Abramoff paid initial expenses for their trips, along with two aides, to the Marianas Islands in 1997.

Congressman Marty Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat, says it's time for another effort to reform laws pertaining to lobbyists.

“In recent months, the American people have learned more about the kind of unseemly influence-peddling that occurs all too often here in Washington. Today there is an ethical cloud hanging over this institution. The United States Congress has lost the confidence of the majority of the American people,” said Mr. Meehan.

Congressman Meehan and fellow Democrat Rahm Emanuel propose legislation that would require more frequent and extensive disclosure of contacts and funding for travel.

It would also address so-called revolving door in which lawmakers or staff move with ease to the private sector, only to return in a new role as lobbyists on Capitol Hill.

Among other things, registered lobbyists or foreign agents would be prohibited from arranging or organizing travel for lawmakers or staff. It would also increase from one to two years the amount of time lawmakers or staff would wait until they could engage in lobbying.

Congressman Emmanuel says the focus should not be on questions about individual lawmakers, but on an overall need for change.

“This is not [all] about trips,” he added. “This legislation urges a comprehensive review of rules as relates to the relationship between the professional lobbying community and the Congress and how the two function.”

Republicans leaders appear open to considering changes, although they say the initial focus will be on increasing money available to the House Ethics Committee to hire staff who can advise members on travel guidelines.