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Congressional Offices Enforce Own Ethics Rules:

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Numerous congressional offices are internally implementing their own strict rules governing staffer-lobbyist contacts. House Energy and Commerce Committee aides are told to avoid “not just lunches and dinners with lobbyists but any lobbyist-sponsored reception.” Members of Congress Pete Sessions (R-TX), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), and Jerry Weller (R-IL) are all restricting staffers from accepting gifts from lobbyists. A Weller spokesman states, “No more lobbyist gifts, of any shape, size or variety, until the House enacts whatever reform it’s going to enact. That includes a cup of coffee, Tortilla Coast [a Hill restaurant], you name it.”

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Doolittle to Avoid Challenge to Leadership Post:

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Despite more revelations coming out about Rep. John Doolittle’s connections to the Abramoff scandal it seems certain that he will retain his leadership post in the GOP caucus. The Sacramento Bee reports that some Republicans plan to call on a full slate of elections today, possibly endangering Doolittle’s low ranking conference secretary post. Doolittle is likely safe considering the push for full elections is expected to fall short and because Doolittle is waging a PR battle within the caucus to clear his name. “Doolittle has sent a letter to every House Republican defending himself against accusations that he was involved improperly with Abramoff.”

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Bush Mine Safety Nominee is Former Mine Executive; Walk-out of Senate on Mine Safety Questioned:

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The Bush Administration nominee to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration, Richard Stickler, is a former executive of Massey Energy, one of the largest coal producers, and a former miner. Despite revelations that recent mine tragedies could have been avoided had the Bush Administration not scrapped 18 mine safety regulations, Stickler believes that no new laws or regulations are needed. Stickler would replace acting agency director David Dye. Dye recently walked out of Senate hearings on mine safety claiming that he had to tend to other matters, including a coal mine fire in Colorado. James Ridgeway of the Village Voice followed up and discovered that the fire in Colorado has been burning for two months.

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Groups Wary of Grassroots Reform:

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Some lobbying groups, such as AARP, National Association of Manufacturers, and the American Cancer Society are concerned that lobbying reforms targeting efforts to mobilize grassroots support could “quell citizen involvement in the political process.” The Hill newspaper notes that “[s]ome lawmakers want to require greater transparency when lobbying organizations, on their own or through specialty public-relations firms, try to generate public support for their legislative priorities.” The real target, according to lawmakers, is the practice of “astroturfing” or “the creation of coalitions or umbrella organizations that reach out to the public without openly declaring their ties to special interests.” So far the concerned groups have not seen any proposal that they see as dangerous to their grassroots efforts.

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ExxonMobil Posts Record Profit, Continues to Receive Tax Breaks:

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ExxonMobil posted the single largest quarterly and annual profit raking in over $10 billion in the fourth quarter of last year while the annual total topped $36 billion, according to the New York Times.  The annual revenue for the oil and gas behemoth was $371 billion, nearly $100 billion more than the entire revenue for the oil producing nation Saudi Arabia.  ExxonMobil is not proudly displaying these record numbers as public opinion towards oil and gas companies has turned sour after a year of high prices at the pump.  Recently a tax increase of $5 billion has been proposed for the oil and gas industry although it is strongly opposed by President Bush, the industry‚Äôs number one recipient of campaign funds over the past decade.  Congressional Republicans fear a backlash from voters after placing $2 billion of tax cuts for the oil and gas industry into the 2005 energy bill.

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Both Parties End Meetings with Lobbyists:

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The Washington Post reports that Senate Republicans and Democrats have both ended their practice of meeting with lobbyists on a regular basis.  Democrats previously met with sympathetic lobbyists every other Monday to plot strategy and to keep the lobbyists informed of the party’s plans.  Republicans, led by Sen. Rick Santorum, met with lobbyists every other Tuesday and will cease to hold these meetings – “at least for now.”  Both parties had already stopped handing out job listings at these meetings although the Republicans stopped more recently than Democrats.

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Bush Administration Weakened Mine Safety Rules, Some Tied to Disasters:

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Six years ago when the Bush Administration took office they “abandoned or delayed” 18 mine safety rules and implemented a self-regulatory approach for the mining industry.  According to the Washington Post, two of those safety rules scuttled by the Administration may have been able to prevent the death of twelve miners in the Sago mine.  These rules were to include “mandatory caches of oxygen tanks and breathing masks inside every mine” and to expand the number of rescue teams.  Mine-safety experts claim that a lack of oxygen reserves and a slow response led to the deaths at Sago in West Virginia.  After the Sago disaster two more miners were killed at the Alma mine in West Virginia when their conveyor belt caught fire.  In 2002, the Administration abandoned a proposal to find ways to make the conveyor belts fire-proof.

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Doolittle Refuses to Comment on Abramoff Ties:

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Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) will not talk about the letters that he wrote to the Interior Department in an effort to help Indian tribes who hired Jack Abramoff as a lobbyist, according to the Sacramento Bee.  One of Doolittle’s letters complained about the closing of an Indian casino contradicting Doolittle’s career-long anti-gambling stance.  Doolittle has even claimed that the reason that he wrote letters opposing Indian casino openings that threatened Abramoff clients was because he is anti-gambling.  Doolittle's contradictory letters follow one pattern: helping Abramoff clients who contributed $130,000 to him and his leadership PAC.

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Lawmakers Target Tribal Casino Giving, Loopholes:

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Indian tribes are considered “persons” under campaign finance law due to a history of treaties and separate tribal governments, thus allowing them to give almost unlimited amounts.  A USA Today article reports that Republican lawmakers are looking to change that with a proposal that would close, what they call, the “Indian tribes loophole.”  Twenty-four tribes gave more than the federally mandated limit on “individuals” in the 2004 election season while total tribal contributions reached $8.6 million.  Kevin Gover, former Bureau of Indian Affairs director states, “It's not as simple as buying their support. But the reality is … why not vote with those who support your campaign?”

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Meehan Opposes Folding 527 Reform Into Lobby Reform:

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Rep. Marty Meehan (D-MA) has insisted that his 527 campaign finance reform bill should not be folded into a lobbying reform package as is being suggested by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and other Republicans.  The co-sponsor of Meehan’s 527 reform, Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT), has sided with Meehan stating, “If 527 reform is going to turn the debate on cleaning up lobbying into partisan bickering, I’d prefer to see an up-or-down vote on two clean bills.”  Meehan and Shays also fear the Republican leadership will include language from another 527 reform proposed by Representatives Mike Pence (R-IN) and Albert Wynn (D-MD) because it could prove a “Trojan horse for gutting the McCain-Feingold law.”

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