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« Update: Grassroots Lobbying Debate Heats Up in Senate | Main | State of Whose Union? »

A Victory for Voters - the Senate Delivers Real Reform

(Listen to my podcast: click here [mp3])

Last night the Senate brought back its lobbying and ethics reform bill from the grave, finally approving a sweeping measure that contains more than I had expected.  It was looking grim yesterday, as a partisan fight had broken out the day before which threatened to kill the whole bill.

The stand-off was over a dispute between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on whether the Senate would take a vote on a "line-item" veto proposal desired by President Bush.  Our activists and other concerned citizens then flooded the Capitol with calls demanding an immediate vote on real lobbying and ethics reform.

Throughout the afternoon and into the evening, the Senate leaders negotiated an agreement that eventually brought the bill back to life. McConnell got a promise on a later vote on a watered-down “line-item” veto bill – and we got a series of strengthening amendments. The bill:

1. Bans gifts from lobbyists and organizations the hire lobbyists (no more gifts to lawmakers, folks).
2. Prohibits organizations that employ lobbyists from arranging or paying for congressional travel, with the following exceptions:
* One day trips
* Travel paid for by 501(c)(3), subject to pre-approval by the ethics committee
* Travel paid for by universities.
3. Requires Members to pay full charter rates for flying on private corporate jets, for officially connected and campaign trips.
4. Discloses all fundraising activity, including bundling, by lobbyists.
5. Prohibits lobbyists from hosting events that "honor" members of Congress, even at party conventions.
6. Extends revolving door prohibition from one year to two – and include "lobbying activity" in that two-year cooling off period.
7. Prohibits spouses of Members of Congress from lobbying, unless they were registered lobbyists prior to the Member's election or they were a lobbyist prior to one year of marrying the Member.
8. Members cannot request earmarks that benefit the Member's immediate family.
9. Extensive earmark disclosure, for federal agencies as well as earmarks to private parties.
10. Earmarks must be posted on the Members' Web page.
11. Disclosure of stealth coalition lobbying.
12. Point of order removal for any earmarks not previously agreed to in the conference committee.
13. And, of course, quarterly, electronic reporting of lobbying activity.

Though there were two notable omissions, we expect to be able to get those provisions into the House bill (and thus in the final bill):

1. Astroturf lobbying, by a vote of 43-55. But we will take this battle to the People's House (and win there).
2. The Office of Public Integrity (or OPI) lost by an even bigger margin than last time, 27-41. But the Senate agreed to further deliberate OPI in the Homeland Security committee to coincide with work that will be done by the House study committee.

Final bill passage: 96-2.

Overall, a great victory! The votes show that Congress does listen to voters and can produce a very good bill.

Now – we work to win the rest.

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