Congressional watchdogs blasted an
ethics reform bill pending in the House of Representatives on
Tuesday as a "scam" that would do little to curb the influence
of money in politics.
"This legislation is so weak it's embarrassing," said
Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause, a group promoting
accountability in government.
House Republican leaders hope to pass a bill this week that
requires more disclosure of lobbyist activity and temporarily
ban privately-funded travel until after the November
congressional elections. The bill is a response to corruption
scandals that have ensnared several lawmakers and staffers.
Watchdog groups said the bill would not change the intimate
relationship between lawmakers and the lobbyists who shower
them with campaign contributions and other perks.
"This bill is based on the premise that you can fool all of
the people all of the time. This is an attempt at one of the
greatest legislative scams that I have seen in 30 years of
working on these issues," said Fred Wertheimer, president of
the advocacy group Democracy 21.
House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, the California
Republican who sponsored the bill, said it represents the best
compromise in a body still sharply divided on exactly what
reforms are needed.
"Rostenkowski said if everybody's unhappy with a piece of
legislation, it's probably a pretty good bill," Dreier said,
citing Dan Rostenkowski, a former veteran Illinois Democratic
lawmaker who pleaded guilty to mail fraud in 1996 and spent 15
months in prison.
Corruption scandals have prompted Congress to reexamine its
relationship with the $2 billion a year lobbying industry.
Former California Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham
is serving an eight-year prison sentence after pleading guilty
to taking $2.4 million in bribes.
Two former aides to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay
have pleaded guilty to corruption charges and are cooperating
with investigators in a separate scandal centered around former
lobbyist Jack Abramoff. DeLay, a Texas Republican, has not been
charged in the scandal but recently announced that he will
resign from Congress.
Unlike a reform bill passed by the Senate last month, the
House bill would allow lawmakers to continue to accept gifts
and meals worth up to $50 from lobbyists, and does not lengthen
the current one-year "cooling off" period before a former
lawmaker can begin to lobby his former colleagues.
Other measures that would have required lobbyists to report
details about fund-raising events and campaign work have been
dropped from the bill.
The bill would make it easier to remove special projects
that lawmakers often quietly slip into large spending bills,
but not "earmarks" inserted in other bills.
House Majority Leader John Boehner said the temporary ban
on lobbyist-funded travel would give the Ethics Committee time
to set up a mechanism to check trips before they take place.
"I'm frankly very proud of the bill that we have, it's a
very substantial bill. The critics will be the critics,"
Additional reporting by Richard Cowan
Copyright © 2006 Reuters Limited