Prospects for Ethics Reform in the Next Congress


While Republicans are licking their wounds from the thumping they took this November they might want to take a look back at the dismissive attitude they presented towards lobbying and ethics reform. Take these quotes from Republicans just a scant four months after Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty and Tom DeLay was indicted.

Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Ct.), who wound up losing in November, said that, “people are quite convinced that the rhetoric of reform is just political.” A spokeswoman for Rep. David Dreier (R-Ca.) said, “Many members have told him [Dreier] that they are not hearing about corruption and lobbying reform at home. They hear more about immigration, gas prices.” And Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio) said, “We panicked, and we let the media get us panicked.” And so the Republican majority, despite passing a less than satisfactory reform package, refused to appoint House conferees to the House-Senate conference committee and thus quietly killed ethics and lobbying reform.

Ethics reforms in the 110th Congress seem more likely to pass even though divisions are already emerging over how far the reforms should go. The 110th Congress will likely take up ethics and lobbying reform as one of the first issues when the new Congress convenes. The reform package that would be under consideration is likely to be the Democrats’ Honest Leadership and Open Government Act from this year. Jeff Birnbaum described the bill in the aptly titled pre-election article “Lobbyists Won't Like What Pelosi Has in Mind.”

The biggest change proposed by Pelosi would be the ban on gifts and travel. Pelosi would prohibit House members and their staff from using corporate jets for travel taken as part of their official duties. She would also prevent them from taking anything of value from lobbyists, including meals, tickets and entertainment.

The ban would apply not just to lobbyists' gifts but also to gifts from nongovernmental groups that hire lobbyists. House members and their aides would also be barred from accepting transportation or lodging for any trips that are funded, arranged, requested, planned or even attended by lobbyists.

In an attempt to slow the revolving door between the public and private sectors, Pelosi would deprive lawmakers-turned-lobbyists of a few of their congressional perks. She would eliminate the House rule that gives access to the House gym, the House floor and its cloak rooms to former members of Congress who are registered to lobby — access that was temporarily taken away earlier this year.

The Dems ethics package would also reveal the authors of earmarks, keep earmarks from being inserted into conference reports, make bills and conference reports available to the public at least 24 hours in advance, and create an Office of Public Integrity to review and audit lobbying reports.

Divisions are emerging in how far to take this reform effort. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the point man on ethics for the Democrats in 2006, has signaled that he will aim to enact legislation creating an independent oversight office to investigate and monitor members of Congress and their staffs.

Incoming Rules Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.) opposes the creation of an independent oversight office and also opposes earmark reforms that Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) proposed in the 109th Congress. Other potential ethics reform opponents could include Appropriators who may oppose stringent earmarking restrictions and Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the loser in the recent Majority Leader contest and a prolific earmarker and ethics reform opponent.

These more contentious reforms likely will not slow down the larger package of reforms that Speaker Pelosi has promised to push. With some support from Republicans her package of reforms is likely to wind on the President's desk sooner rather than later. For more details and background check out the Congresspedia page on this subject. And feel free to add more information as it becomes available.