Lobbying and Ethics Reforms Need to be Enforced

On September 14, 2007, President Bush signed the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, a package of lobbying and ethics reforms. However, over two years later, there remains very little enforcement of such rules. According to the Senate's website, there have been a total of 8,281 cases of potential violations of the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). Meanwhile, there has been no enforcement on any of the potential LDA violations since 2005, except to send out letters to potential violators.

Pam Gavin, the Senate's superintendant of public records, has recently addressed the significant number of lobbyists who did not file LD-203 reports, covering political contributions and other spending linked to lawmakers. According to BNA Money and Politics ($$), Gavin suggested that the situation was due to lobbyists' inattention to reporting requirements, as opposed to a deliberate effort to hide political contributions. "Since the federal LDA came into effect more than a decade ago—requiring periodic reporting of lobbying activities—only three referrals have resulted in any enforcement action that has been made public. The three cases resulted in out-of-court civil settlements between DOJ and lobbyists, who agreed to pay fines totaling less than $50,000. No court action has ever been taken against an LDA violator, according to Justice Department officials."

Meanwhile, news has reported on other areas of inadequate enforcement of congressional ethics. USA Today detailed that, "no member of Congress has been punished for wrongdoing." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) spokesman Brendan Daly said, "lawmakers are held to the 'highest ethical standard' and pointed to the independent Office of Congressional Ethics as one example." However, the committee has not made an effort to discipline any lawmaker.

The Office of Congressional Ethics released a report detailing that in its first year, it conducted 25 preliminary reviews, terminated four cases, recommended dismissal in eight cases, and recommended that the House Ethics Committee conduct further review of 12 cases.

Of course, to avoid risking any chance of potentially violating the law without facing any consequences, simply deregister and provide "policy research." Conveniently, the same services provided by lobbying firms then continue, just without the reporting requirements.

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