Saturday, July 28, 2007

Putting A Leash On Lobbyists

One of the promises the Democrats made while campaigning for the November, 2006 election is that they would clean up the corruption in Congress. It appears that they are finally getting around to doing something on that issue, according to an article in today's NY Times.

Congressional Democrats reached tentative agreement Friday night on a major overhaul of lobbying rules that would for the first time require lawmakers to identify lobbyists who assemble multiple donations and turn them over to candidates. ...

The tentative proposal puts new requirements on lobbyists as well as on lawmakers, and orders disclosure of contributions that have become alternative ways to curry favor with politicians by giving to entities like favored charities, special awards and honors and presidential library funds. Lobbyists would also have to disclose at least twice a year if they paid for meetings or retreats.

The measure would set a one-year ban on lobbying for former House members and senior staff members, and two years in the Senate. New restrictions would be put on lobbying by spouses, and lobbyists would be required to disclose any previous experience in the executive or legislative branches.

Politicians would be banned from trying to pressure firms and associations to hire certain lobbyists based on partisan background — the so-called Republican K-Street project. Lawmakers and top aides would have to recuse themselves from issues where there could be a conflict because of negotiations for future employment, and such negotiations would have to be disclosed within three business days. New public databases would be established of lobbyists’ disclosures as well as of lawmaker travel and personal financial data. Penalties for violations would be increased.

That's a rather nice, if ambitious, start. Cutting the financial umbilical cord between Congress and K Street is necessary if we are to stop the Abramoff-style pillaging of the government. Although Sen. Mitch McConnell has indicated that Republican senators "probably" would vote for the proposal, actually getting such a bill through the House and the Senate is far from certain.

The agreement has been tentatively reached in the Democratic caucus, and only in informal meetings because one Republican senator stopped any formal conference on the issue. It would have been nice if the NY Times had revealed just who that senator was, but I guess we should be satisfied that the story was reported at all.

But if the 110th Congress manages to get this kind of reform passed, then maybe they can turn to the other part of the issue, that of Congressional ethics.

We'll see.

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