What’s in the Ethics Bill?


Last night the Senate passed the much anticipated ethics bill that was almost stopped in its tracks. Nearly every newspaper has written up its account of the bill and most are aware of the major provisions of the bill. Many provisions, however, that were added by amendment during the debate have not gotten their fair share of attention. This is a relatively complete summary of all the major and overlooked provisions of the Senate ethics bill:

  • Lobbyists must file quarterly lobbyist disclosure reports (previously only biannual) that must now include a) a list of all contributions over $200 made by the lobbyist to all federal candidates, political action committees, and party committees; b) all fundraising events thrown by the lobbyist to all federal candidates, political action committees, and party committees; c) all campaign contributions bundled — collected and arranged — by the lobbyist to all federal candidates, political action committees, and party committees; d) the name of recipient and total money donated or arranged by the lobbyist for an event in honor of or to recognize a Member of Congress or executive branch official; e) all money the lobbyist donates or arranges for an entity named after a Member of Congress or executive branch official; f) all money donated to a Presidential library or Presidential inaugural committee; and g) all money donated or arranged to pay for a retreat, conference, or meeting of Members of Congress or executive branch officials.
  • Former Members of Congress must wait two years before they can engage in any lobbying activity. Spouses of Senators cannot lobby the Senate unless they were employed as a lobbyist for at least one year prior to the election of their spouse. Former Members of Congress who are lobbyists are prohibited from using gym and parking privileges made available to former Members. Lobbyists are prohibited from throwing lavish parties for Members of Congress during party nominating conventions.
  • All bills and joint resolutions must report a list of earmarks containing the sponsor, cost, purpose, and whether the sponsor or an immediate family member will benefit from the earmark for each individual earmark. All bills and joints resolutions with a list of earmarks must put that list of earmarks online 48 hours before consideration of the bill or resolution. The term earmark applies to a limited appropriation, a limited tax benefit, and a limited tariff benefit. Members are also prohibited from requesting an earmark that financially benefit themselves or an immediate family member.
  • Both the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate must create searchable online databases of Member's travel gift reports by the beginning of next year. Travel gift reports have never before been available online on a government website.
  • All commmittees and subcommittees must post within 14 days of a meeting a video, audio, or printed transcript of that meeting on their public website.
  • Senators flying on private and corporate jets must pay the full charter price rather than the cheaper price of a first class ticket.
  • Members convicted of certain felonies would be denied their congressional pensions.
  • The Committee to Strengthen Confidence in Congress must issue a report within 6 months detailing the number, type, and quantity of campaign contributions given by certain corporate interests within a 30 period prior to the enactment of the following laws: the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and the Dominican Republic-Central American-United States Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act. Those corporate interests whose contributions must be listed include pharmaceutical companies and trade associations for pharmaceutical companies; banking or financial services companies, credit card companies, and trade associations for such companies; oil, natural gas, nuclear, or coal companies and trade associations of such companies; the United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundatble, the National Federation of Independent Business, the Emergency Committee for American Trade, or any member company of these entities, and any other free trade organization funded primarily by corporate entities.

There are some very exciting measures in here including the online posting of earmarks, travel gift reports, and committee hearings. Some of these changes are rules changes which will go into effect immediately, others are legislative changes which require the House to pass similar legislation and the President to sign. The should be able to get around to this rather soon considering that their 100 hour agenda turned into the 42 hour agenda. Preferably the House can expand on the online transparency reforms that we have seen come out of the amendment process in the Senate ethics bill.