Despite repeated denials by some reform groups, the recently passed ethics reforms are full of loopholes. USA Today and The Washington Post are now beginning to report on how "the more things change, the more they stay the same."
None of this is a great surprise, I suppose. That's why it seems to us that transparency -- 21st century style -- may do more to stop bad things from happening than all the new laws that Congress passes.
Over at Porkbusters, N.Z. Bear relays the latest word on the shape that earmark reforms will take in the new lobbying bill, and offers readers a chance to check for themselves. Rather than clutter the home page up with a million updates, I'll take a closer look myself over on RealTime...Continue reading
Yesterday, the Senate moved one step closer to passing S. 1639, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill, which has been less than popular with the public, and with those on the left, the center left, the center right and the right. Of course, some are supporting the bill, but sadly, lobbying records are no help in determing who might be supporting it.Continue reading
Writing in the Washington Post, Paul Kane explicates the fine print on a fundraiser flier sent out by Sen. Charles Schumer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and finds that the draw for prospective lobbyist fundraisers will be congressional staff members -- not members of Congress:
Officially, lobbyists are asked to give or raise $2,000 to be a "host" or $1,000 to be a "DSCC friend" in order to meet "individuals representing" Senate Democrats. That's code word for chiefs of staff and staff directors of committees, according to lobbyists who received the fundraising pitch. The image of the invite that was e-mailed to Capitol Briefing included the file name of "chiefs invitation". Continue reading
Update: Lobbying bill passes!
Following up on their promise to pass an ethics and lobbying reform bill before the Memorial Day recess the Democratic majority brought the bill to the floor today. Voting on amendments to the bill is still underway but there have been some developments that already buck against the growing press accounts bemoaning the slow pace of the bill's passage. Despite supposed opposition from some Democrats the Chris Van Hollen sponsored lobbyist bundling disclosure bill passed by a wide margin, 382-37. The bill was strengthened further by a Republican measure, supported by freshman Democrats, that requires PACs to disclose bundled contributions as well.Continue reading
The House Rules Committee received today 48 amendments that will be offered during the debate and vote on the much-anticipated lobbying bill. There isn't too much of interest to us at Sunlight but I figured that you might want to check out all of the proposed amendments. The most controversial ones will certainly be Chris Van Hollen's bundling disclosure amendment, Chris Shays' 2-year lobbying cooling off amendment, Marty Meehan's ban on lobbyist thrown parties at national conventions, and the numerous amendments to create outside ethics enforcement bodies. Jeff Flake, notorious for his anti-earmark crusade, has also offered a raft of controversial amendments related to earmarks including an outright ban on lobbying for earmarks. I've put the whole list below the fold. Check it out:Continue reading
The House Judiciary Committee just took a break from the lobbying bill markup session to go vote on the floor of the House so it seems like a good time to give a re-cap. The first action the committee took was to pass HR 2317, the lobbyist bundling disclosure bill, out of committee. There were some questions raised from Rep. John Larson (D-CT) and Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT) but ultimately the bill was voted out in favor. The bill will be reported as an amendment on the floor to be added to HR 2316, the lobbying and ethics package. In regards to HR 2316 the committee passed a manager's amendment that stripped the increase in the revolving door provision from 1 to 2 years, changed the location of disclosure for Members negotiating for outside employment from the Clerk of the House to the House Ethics Committe, and stripped a provision (Conyers called it a "drafting error") that would have required 501(c)(3)s to disclose all contributions over $500.Continue reading
The House Judiciary Committee is currently deciding what will or will not be included in the House’s ethics reform bill. While the Committee is talking about requiring greater transparency from lobbyists they aren’t taking simple steps to make the House more transparent. Last week, Ellen proposed that the Judiciary Committee take one simple step to make the House more transparent by putting personal financial disclosure forms online. (This is also a recommendation in The Open House Project report.) You can help make this happen by following this link and contacting Speaker Pelosi and the members of the Judiciary Committee and asking them to include a provision putting personal financial disclosures online in the ethics bill. If you want to know why you should care about the online disclosure of personal financial disclosure forms you can read Ellen’s post and continue reading this post. (See also the Congresspedia entry on personal financial disclosure.)Continue reading
Speaking of the Dubai ports deal in the context of the inadequacy of our current lobbyist disclosure laws, it's probably worth noting that it wasn't just DP World that was hiring lobbyists. The controversy, recall, erupted in the second half of February, as an increasingly large, bipartisan group of lawmakers questioned the sale of a British firm that handled some U.S. port operations to a company owned by the government of Dubai, which is part of the United Arab Emirates. By March 9, DP World announced it would get out of the U.S. ports business.Continue reading
It's been interesting to hear discussions (and be part of a few) about Sunlight's transparency agenda, particularly from smart lawyer types, policy wonks and activists. For my part, I tend to need concrete examples to prop up my thinking, and thought I'd offer a few examples from how we do things now which I think will make it fairly clear as to why we need to do things differently. Take our current state of lobbying disclosure, and a recent, relatively high profile matter that caused a lot of consternation among Americans: The Dubai ports deal. Under our current lobbying law, the average citizen would have no way of finding out how many lobbyists the company at the heart of the controversy was employing, or how much they were paying them, or who they were lobbying, until long after the matter was resolved.Continue reading