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US Congress Moves to Curb Lobbyists


Acting before the start of the second session of the 109th Congress, an increasing number of lawmakers are supporting legislation and proposing rule changes to limit the power and influence of lobbyists on Capitol Hill. The steps come amid mounting anxiety over the ongoing federal investigation into activities of once-powerful lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is cooperating in a corruption probe involving members of Congress.

In comments to reporters, Senate Democrat Joseph Lieberman threw his support behind an effort by Republican Senator John McCain aimed at curbing the powers of lobbyists.

"Now is our opportunity and really our responsibility to restore the trust of the American people in their elected government and, to the best of our ability, scrub clean the point where money, politics and government meet in America," he said.

Senator Lieberman's decision to back the main bipartisan effort in the Senate is significant, as lawmakers react to the expanding dark ethics cloud from the Abramoff matter which shows every sign of growing to include numerous members of both chambers of Congress.

Mr. Abramoff pleaded guilty this week in federal court in Washington to charges of conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion relating to his lobbying activities, as well as similar charges in a Florida court.

Senate committee hearings since 2004 have focused on the former lobbyist's dealings involving Native American tribes who he has acknowledged defrauding of millions of dollars, with the help of Michael Scanlon, once an aide to former House Republican Leader Tom DeLay. Mr. Scanlon has also pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges.

Senator Lieberman referred to this in his comments on Thursday,

"Mr. Abramoff and those in our government who became his partners in greed have demeaned our political system and obviously further diminished the trust of the American people in the integrity of their government, which is so essential to our democracy," he said.

Bipartisan lobbying reform proposals in the Senate mirror similar measures put forward by House Democrats, and at least one key House Republican, Congressman Christopher Shays.

Last year, House Democrats proposed broad legislation aimed at imposing stricter accountability and disclosure rules on lobbyists and members of Congress.

On Thursday, opposition Democrats announced an effort to attach the lobbying reform effort to a wider campaign to amend rules of the House.

Among other things, they want to prevent lobbyists from paying for or sponsoring congressional travel, and prevent former lawmakers from using their influence to lobby current members.

The number of House and Senate Republicans and Democrats donating to charity money received from Mr. Abramoff or his clients increases each day. Some 70 have now done so.

Republican Senator John Cornyn says he is examining possible Abramoff-linked contributions he may have received, adding he believes lobbying reform is needed:

"I have not seen specific bills on lobbying reform, but I am confident that lobbying reform is necessary and I would gladly support that effort," he said.

A number of lawmakers from both chambers have so far declined to give up Abramoff-linked funds, saying they don't consider the money to be politically tainted by the scandal.

Among these are Senator Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic Minority Leader, and Congressman Tom Reynolds, who heads the National Republican Congressional Committee overseeing fundraising for the Republican Party.

The numbers change each day as additional lawmakers, particularly those facing tight electoral contests in this congressional mid-term election year, recognize the need to distance themselves from Abramoff.

All of these developments come amid increasing pressure both within and outside Congress for lawmakers to fix a mostly broken congressional ethics monitoring system.

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