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While the Public is Shut Out, Former Members Lobby on Debt Ceiling with Abandon

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Yesterday it was reported that a former Member of Congress, Ernest Istook, was seen on the House floor asking his colleagues to oppose the Boehner debt ceiling legislation. It seems that Istook, though clearly “lobbying” by anyone’s sense of the word, did not violate a House Rule that prohibits former members who are lobbyists from access to the floor.

The reason Istook can use his clout, his friendships with current House members, and the resources of the Heritage Foundation—where he is currently employed—to sidle up to lawmakers and ask for their support, is because he is not a registered lobbyist. A current gaping loophole in the law provides that anyone who spends less than 20 percent of his time lobbying does not need to register and report his activities. In the case if former members, the loophole also allows them to continue to access their colleagues on the floor of the House, the House gym and other exclusive venues limited to current and former lawmakers.

On a day when average citizens couldn’t reach their members of Congress because phone lines were overwhelmed and web sites crashed, it is particularly galling that former members, the ultimate Washington insiders, have such direct and immediate access.

Sunlight supports legislation, HR 2339, the Lobbying Disclosure Enhancement Act, that would end stealth lobbying by closing the 20 percent loophole. In addition, the bill would require that all lobbyists report the names of the individual members with whom they are meeting so that we know who our elected officials are talking to, and about what.