Lieberman Hails Signficant Ethics, Lobbying Reform

Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., issued the following statement Wednesday immediately before passage of the Lobbying Transparency and Accountability Act:

Mr. President, I rise to express my strong support for the Lobbying Transparency and Accountability Act, which we will vote on shortly. This legislation contains significant reforms in a number of areas.

It gets rid of gifts from lobbyists. It requires significantly increased disclosure from those who are paid to influence Members of Congress. For the first time ever, it would shine sunlight on the activities of those who are paid to bring large numbers of phone calls and letters to Congressional offices. It significantly slows the so-called revolving door by doubling the ban on lobbying by Members once they leave Congress and significantly expanding the rules covering who former staff can and can’t lobby.

In short, it completely upends the status quo, and I hope it will begin to restore the American public’s trust in Congress, which has been sorely tested by recent scandals, most prominently the indictment of lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Trust between the people and their elected leaders is essential to a democracy. The behavior of Mr. Abramoff and his associates undercut that trust and created the perception that, in Washington, results go to the highest bidder, not to the greatest public good. That is not always the case, but it is the public perception. This legislation reverses that equation.

Mr. President, there are many people to thank for seeing this effort through. First I want to thank my Chairman, Senator Collins, for her usual outstanding leadership in rising to the challenge of crafting a strong bipartisan lobbying reform proposal in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. After a hearing in late January, she was ready to markup legislation a month later, despite an incredible work load from conducting the ongoing Katrina investigation, which included multiple hearings a week.

The legislation we passed out of Committee contained significant reforms that will not only change the way lobbyists and Members of Congress interact, but will provide the American public with additional information about where billions of lobbying dollars are being spent and for what purpose.

The measure approved by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee requires lobbyists to report more details more frequently about their activities, including their campaign contributions to Members of Congress, political action committees, and fundraising events hosted or sponsored by lobbyists. They will also be required to disclose travel they arrange for Members of Congress or Executive Branch officials. All lobbyist disclosures will have to be made quarterly, rather than semi-annually, and they will have to be made online so that anyone who wishes to monitor lobbyist activities will be able to do so and do so easily on a public, searchable database.

For the first time ever, large-scale grassroots lobbying campaigns – those known as astro-turf campaigns, because they are manufactured – will be required to disclose the money they spend. I want to thank Senator Levin for partnering with me on this effort. I am particularly proud of this victory, which directly responds to the activities of Mr. Abramoff and his associate Michael Scanlon, who sought contributions from Indian tribes to a grassroots lobbying effort and then took kickbacks from the grassroots organization.

The legislation from the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee further slows the revolving door between Congress and K St. by doubling to two years the amount of time a former Member of Congress must wait before lobbying his or her former colleagues, and by prohibiting former senior congressional staff from lobbying for a year the entire body which they formerly served, rather than the particular member who employed them.

Also, the bill increases penalties for lobbyists by doubling the civil fine for violations of the Lobbying Disclosure Act to $100,000.

Mr. President, the leadership of Rules Committee Chairman Lott and his Ranking Member and my own senior Senator, Chris Dodd, must also be noted. They too produced a strong bill from their Committee, which was combined with ours on the Senate floor. Their bill prohibited most gifts from lobbyists to Members of Congress and required pre-approval and greater disclosure of all Congressional travel.

It also addressed an issue of deep significance to many Americans by requiring that earmarks attached to legislation be listed, explained, and the member behind the earmark be identified.

This package of reforms was further strengthened on the Senate floor with an amendment from my colleague Senator Dodd to make sure that all gifts from lobbyists were banned – including meals. This, Mr. President, is truly a remarkable victory for those who believe the relationship between lobbyists and Members of Congress has been too cozy. The bill was additionally strengthened with an amendment from Senators Wyden and Grassley that would abolish the practice of secret holds on legislation, requiring the member who wishes to place a hold to identify him or herself.

I also want to thank Senators McCain, Obama, and Feingold, all stalwarts of reform and indispensable allies in this endeavor. Both Senators McCain and Feingold were out ahead on this issue, having introduced strong reform legislation last year.

In addition, Senate Minority Leader Reid provided essential muscle and impetus when he introduced his own reform package, supported by almost the entire Democratic Senate caucus, earlier this year.

Senator Collins and I are disappointed the Senate rejected an amendment we offered with Senators McCain, Collins, and Obama that would have established an independent Office of Public Integrity to conduct the preliminary stage of a Senate ethics complaint. I believe this independent office would have further assured the public that we in Congress are not only dead serious about reform but are dead serious about the enforcement of that reform.

And I regret a group of us were unable to offer an amendment to increase the reimbursement costs of airplane travel provided to members by private entities. But even without these additional reforms, this legislation sends the clear and powerful message that, in Washington, we are taking significant steps to make sure here in this Congress results go to the greatest public good and not ever to the highest bidder.

I have said many times throughout this debate that we now have a once in a generation opportunity to reach bipartisan agreement on a broad set of reforms that will reduce cynicism, prevent abuse and restore trust in the American people in their government, Mr. President, I believe this bill does just that.

On a final note, I would like to thank several staff members for their long hours and exceptional hard work on this legislation. On my staff, I particularly want to thank Troy Cribb, who led our efforts on this bill, as well as my Staff Director Joyce Rechtschaffen and Chief Counsel Laurie Rubenstein. They labored to make this bill as good as it could possibly be. I also want to thank Michael Bopp, Jennifer Hemmingway, Ann Fisher, and Kurt Schmautz on the majority staff, and Kennie Gill and Veronica Gillespie from Senator Dodd’s staff, and Senator Lott’s able staff, as well. I thank them all. I thank my colleagues and I thank the Chair. I yield the floor.