WASHINGTON – Senator Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Thursday announced he was joining Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., on a strong lobbyist reform proposal to rein in the excesses demonstrated by the Jack Abramoff case. The Lobbying Transparency and Accountability Act of 2005, S. 2128, was introduced following an investigation in the Indian Affairs Committee into the activities of lobbyist Abramoff, who bilked several Indian tribes of millions of dollars for personal enrichment. Abramoff pleaded guilty this week.
“The Abramoff scandal has revealed large gaps in our current lobbying laws that cry out for legislative response and reform,” Senator Lieberman said. “It is imperative that we take steps to end corrupted and corrosive lobbying activities by tightening our lobbyist regulatory laws. Now is our opportunity to restore the trust of the American people in their elected government and to the best of our ability, scrub clean the point where money, politics, and government meet.” Following is the Senator’s full statement: Good afternoon. I want to speak with you today about the Jack Abramoff scandal; its consequences for our government; and what we in Congress can do about it. Mr. Abramoff’s admissions in federal courts in Washington and Miami this week that he committed serious crimes have at least three sober and indisputable consequences for us. First, it reminds us, as the corporate scandals of recent years have, of the age-old lesson that unbridled greed will lead people to immoral, unethical, and illegal behavior, and we need stronger laws to expose, prevent, and punish it. Second, Mr. Abramoff has grossly corrupted an otherwise important and honorable profession in our democracy – the representation of people in petitioning their government. We must now strengthen our laws regulating lobbying, not just to stop those who do it wrong, but to respect those who do it right. Third, Mr. Abramoff and those in our government who became his partners in greed have demeaned our political system and further diminished the trust of the American people in their government, which is essential to our democracy. They have sent a message that results in Washington go to the highest private bidder, not to the greatest public interest. That is wrong, destructive, and unacceptable. In America, we believe in the rule of law. We see the law as the expression of our best values, as the codification of our understanding of right and wrong, as our commitment to encourage right behavior and deter and punish wrongful conduct. By his guilty pleas, Mr. Abramoff has acknowledged that he violated our laws. But the seedy story of his behavior reveals much that may have been technically legal but nonetheless was clearly wrong. Because the effect of public corruption is so damaging, anyone who has anything to do with our government should hold themselves, and be held to, a standard of not just of doing what is legal, but of doing what is right. And we who are lawmakers must always be ready to make what is clearly wrong also clearly illegal. The Abramoff scandal has revealed large gaps in our current lobbying laws that cry out for legislative response and reform. Today, I am announcing my decision to join Senator John McCain as Democratic cosponsor of lobbying reform legislation, S.2128, the Lobbying Transparency and Accountability Act of 2005, which he introduced shortly before the Senate adjourned in December. At that time, he asked me to join him as co-sponsor. I said I would review his proposal and make a decision as soon as possible. I have completed my review and enthusiastically join John as co-sponsor. This strong legislation was crafted in the aftermath of a characteristically tough and independent investigation into Mr. Abramoff’s outrageous activities conducted by Senator McCain as Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, along with his Ranking member, Senator Byron Dorgan. It directly responds to a number of abuses uncovered by both Senator McCain and the Department of Justice investigation which led to Mr. Abramoff’s plea bargain this week. For example, the legislation requires more frequent and more detailed disclosure of the activities of lobbyists and, for the first time, covers grassroots lobbying firms. I am not talking about true grassroots organizations, which are democracy at its best, that ask and organize their members to petition their government. I am talking about the paid, professional lobbyists retained to conduct mass campaigns aimed at influencing Members of Congress, like the ones Abramoff and his associate Michael Scanlon organized to bilk Indian tribes of millions of dollars and to circumvent the existing lobbying disclosure laws. In response to Mr. Abramoff’s lavish financing of Congressional globe trotting, this bill requires lobbyists to disclose all payments for travel made or arranged, including detailed itemizations of trips. It also requires Members of Congress and staff to pay the fair market value for use of a private plane, and values sports and entertainment tickets in skyboxes at the cost of the highest priced ticket in the arena. To address the problem of the revolving door between government and the private sector, which the Abramoff case again highlights, our proposal doubles from one to two years the “cooling off” period during which senior members of the executive branch, Members of Congress, and senior congressional staff are restricted from lobbying their onetime colleagues. In an attempt to strengthen disclosure of lobbyist-lawmaker interactions, Senator McCain and I would require lobbying disclosure filings to include information on campaign contributions to federal candidates, their political action committees, and political party committees, and disclosure of lobbyist contributions to events or institutions that honor or recognize public officials. These are but a few of the provisions that, had they been law, might have prevented the all-encompassing scandal that now embroils this great Capital city and the country that depends upon it. It is imperative that we take steps to end corrupted and corrosive lobbying activities by tightening our lobbyist regulatory laws. Now is our opportunity to restore the trust of the American people in their elected government and to the best of our ability, scrub clean the point where money, politics, and government meet. I look forward to working with Senator Susan Collins, Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, on which I serve as Ranking Democrats, and to which our bill has been referred, and to working with Senate leaders to turn these proposed reforms into law this year. Thank you.