House to Vote on Lukewarm Lobby Reform Bill
by Guest Blogger, 5/2/2006
Following intense negotiations, House leadership sent a lobbying and ethics package to the floor for a May 3 vote made up of watered-down provisions that passed through five committees. A rule restricting amendments during the floor debate will prevent reform advocates from strengthening these provisions.
Democrats, watchdog groups, and reform-minded Republicans harshly criticized H.R. 4975, the Lobbying Transparency and Accountability Act, which many feel is too weak. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-NY) said the legislation was "an embarrassingly trivial response to the culture of corruption that has thrived under the Republican congress." Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT) called the bill "a total sham," adding that "a good number of members know it is a sham."
Watchdog groups also expressed disappointment with the bill that will go to the floor under a restrictive rule that limits discussion and closes the legislative process. On Apr. 28 a coalition of reform groups sent a letter urging House members to vote against the rule and the final package. OMB Watch, in its letter opposing the final bill, called it "window dressing."
The bill to be considered on the House floor was changed by Republican leadership that feared rebellion from rank-and-file members. The bill was weakened by stripping or altering language added during markup in five different committees.
- A provision requiring lobbyists to report the details of fundraising events they host or co-host on their LDA form;
- A provision requiring lobbyists to document every "lobbying contact" with a lawmaker. "Lobbying contact" is defined by the Lobbying Disclosure Act as virtually any nonexempt oral, written, or electronic communication on behalf of a client that addresses the "formulation, modification, or adoption" of federal laws, executive orders, federal agency rules and regulations, or "any other program, policy, or position of the United States Government;" the administration of federal programs and policies, including negotiation, amendment, or administration of government contracts, licenses, and loans, and Senate confirmations;
- A provision requiring lobbyists to disclose when they are campaign treasurers; and
- A provision designed to "rein in" 527 organizations, which was instead taken up as stand alone legislation, H.R. 513.
- A provision allowing points of order to be raised against conference reports or bills that do not have a complete list of earmarks and their sponsors has been changed to allow for 30 minutes of debate, instead of 20.
- A provision prohibiting former members of Congress, congressional staff and executive branch employees convicted of corruption while in office from receiving their pensions has been altered to remove the language extending the provision to congressional staff and executive branch employees. The language had been added by the Government Reform Committee.
Additionally, the rule governing floor debate moves to marry H.R. 513, a completely unrelated bill to "rein in" 527 organizations to the lobby reform bill after it is passed by the House, in order to force Senate consideration of the 527 legislation.
Opposition to the bill began when Republicans on the Rules Committee blocked a number of amendments offered to strengthen the underlying bill. Only nine of the 74 amendments offered to the committee were accepted. Rejected amendments include:
- A substitute offered by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) consisting of the text of the Democrats alternative bill, the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2006 (H.R. 4682), which would ban gifts from lobbyists, and organizations that retain or employ lobbyists, shut down the K Street Project, end the practice of adding special interest provisions in the dead of night, require the public disclosure of earmarks, and toughen lobbyist disclosure requirements and disclosure;
- A bipartisan package of amendments offered by Reps. Chris Shays (R-CT) and Marty Meehan (D-MA). These amendments dealt with issues such as corporate jet travel, establishing an Office of Public Integrity to put some teeth into enforcement, disclosure of financial benefits provided by lobbyists and tougher gift rules. The package included a provision, identical to the Senate's provision, that would have required disclosure of grassroots lobbying expenses above $25,000 in a quarter for organizations already disclosing under the Lobbying Disclosure Act;
- An amendment by Reps. Tom Davis (R-VA) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) that would:
(1) require all political appointees and senior officials in federal agencies and the White House to report the contacts they have with private parties seeking to influence official government action;
(2) deem lawyers, lobbyists and executives appointed to high-level government positions to have a prohibited conflict of interest if they take official actions affecting their former clients or employers within two years of entering government;
(3) restrict activities of procurement officials as they pass between the government and private sectors;
(4) provide whistleblower protections for national security personnel;
(5) eliminate the use of unregulated "pseudo-classifications" such as "sensitive but unclassified" or "for official use only;" and
(6) require the federal government to disclose its role in funding or disseminating advertising and communications and prohibits the expenditure of funds on unauthorized propaganda.
For a complete list of amendments visit the Rules Committee website.
On Apr. 26 Republican leadership appeared unable to pass its much maligned rule governing floor debate on the bill as the structured rule (which permits members to offer only those amendments pre-approved by the Rules Committee) came under attack from House Democratic leadership, House appropriators, and watchdog groups.
House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-CA) yanked the rule midway through the debate because all 37 Republican Appropriations Committee members threatened to vote against it. Leadership hastily convened a meeting of the entire Republican Conference and emerged to reconvene the chamber to try again to muster a majority for the rule. They succeeded, approving H.Res. 783 by a vote of 216-207.
Appropriators had threatened to vote against the rule because it did not permit consideration of an amendment to extend new earmark disclosure requirements to tax and authorization measures, as well as appropriations bills. The House bill is currently silent on tax and authorizing bills, only requiring the identification of members sponsoring appropriations earmarks. After a deal cut with Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Dreier promised on the House floor that he would not support a conference report that did not address comprehensive earmark reform.
That appeased Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA), but Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA) is unlikely to accept it. In large part conservatives view earmark parity with tax and authorization bills as a "poison pill" that will kill the bill by giving members of Ways and Means and other committees reason to vote against it. If House tax writers vote against the bill the floor vote could be close.
Those monitoring the vote counts of Democrats and Republicans are having a hard time determining whether there will be enough votes for passage on May 3. Reportedly, as many as 10 Democrats are considering voting for the bill even in its watered-down state. If indeed the case, that may be enough to win passage. Except just how many Republican votes there are for the bill also remains unclear. Some who voted for the rule last week have not announced whether they will vote for the bill. And some, like Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM), who face a tough re-election bid, are getting heat from home for voting for the rule.