The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has approved, in a vote of 12-1, major lobbying reform legislation authored by committee Chairman Susan Collins and Ranking Member Joseph Lieberman. The legislation, which will be considered by the full Senate as early as next week, significantly strengthens disclosure and reporting requirements by lobbyists, doubles to $100,000 the fine for non compliance, and makes more stringent the rules associated with former Members of Congress and senior staffers who become lobbyists.
In addition, the legislation complements a bill recently approved by the Senate Rules Committee, which would ban all gifts to Members of Congress and staff by lobbyists and impose additional restrictions and disclosures on privately funded travel. The committee also approved an amendment sponsored by Senators Lieberman and Carl Levin (D-MI) that would require lobbyists that engage in grassroots activities to disclose those activities.
The legislation was modeled after a bill introduced by Senators John McCain and Lieberman.
“Recent events in Washington have prompted a needed review of legal lobbying activities that raise questions of improper influence or the appearance of impropriety. It is critical that we act to strengthen the laws governing disclosure and ban practices that erode public confidence in the integrity of government decisions,” said Senator Collins. She added, “The Collins-Lieberman lobbying reform legislation includes significant reforms that will strengthen and make more transparent and accessible disclosure of lobbyists’ activities, it doubles the penalty for non compliance, and it ensures that staff and former Members of Congress do not have undue and unfair influence over either chamber of Congress.”
Senator Lieberman said, “The bill reported out of Committee today is the most significant lobbyist disclosure bill in a decade and further draws back the curtain to let more sun shine in on the relationship between lobbyists and members of Congress. For the first time, and as a direct result of the Jack Abramoff scandal, this legislation would require professional grassroots organizations hired by lobbyists to disclose the money they receive and spend.”
He added, “Also for the first time, lobbyists would have a legal obligation to comply with the Senate’s limits on gifts. When combined with the Rules Committee’s bill, our proposal imposes a near complete ban on gifts from lobbyists and makes sure that there’s full disclosure of any gifts that remain. I intend to offer an amendment on the Senate floor with Senator McCain to raise the cost of flying on a corporate jet for political or governmental purposes to the cost of chartering a plane. We now have a once in a generation opportunity to help fix the rules governing our relations with lobbyists and restore the reputation of this institution in the eyes of the American people. ”
The committee failed to approve a provision supported by Senators Collins and Lieberman that would have created an Office of Public Integrity to restore public confidence in the process by strengthening oversight and enforcement. The Senators said that they would continue to work to educate their colleagues about this provision and will address enforcement issues again.