Incoming Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Tuesday helped launch Senate debate on the 110th Congress’ first bill, S. 1, the lobbying and ethics reform bill, with a call for even stronger measures to put the public interest ahead of personal and partisan interests.
Lieberman said that strong, bipartisan reform of lobbying and ethics rules would help to restore public confidence in a Congress wracked by scandal last year, and would enable lawmakers to find solutions to more complicated issues such as developing a new strategy for Iraq, fighting the war on terror, and providing economic opportunities to all Americans.
“In this season of new resolutions, it is only appropriate that we resolve to the American people to conduct the business of the nation within strict ethical standards,” Lieberman said. “I hope the Senate will move quickly to renew the bonds between the American public and Congress that were frayed because of the unethical behavior of a few members of Congress and provide the American people with the openness and honesty they deserve.”
Lieberman said the measure would hold lobbyists and Members of Congress more accountable to the public by requiring lobbyists to report their activity quarterly and electronically to a public and searchable data base.
The measure also would require lobbyists to disclose campaign contributions and fundraisers hosted for federal candidates, travel arranged for Members of Congress, payments for events to honor Members of Congress, and contributions to organizations such as charities that are established or controlled by a Member. S.1 further requires disclosure by the organizers of grassroots campaigns – that is media campaigns, mass mailings, phone banks, and other large-scale efforts that encourage the public to contact Members of Congress about specific issues.
Other provisions of S. 1 that fall outside the jurisdiction of HSGAC include a prohibition on Senators and their staff from accepting gifts or meals from registered lobbyists, and required disclosure of appropriation bill earmarks.
Lieberman also would like the Senate to create an Independent Office of Public Integrity to review allegations of ethics violations by Members.
“Significant changes to our ethics rules must be accompanied by significant changes to the way we enforce those rules,” Lieberman said. “The public is skeptical about our ability to police ourselves. They have seen too many members get caught up in scandal.”
Last year, the HSGAC reported out with near unanimous bipartisan support lobbying reform legislation that was later combined with tough ethics reforms reported out of the Rules Committee. The Senate approved the package 90-8. But the House passed weak legislation, and the two never were reconciled.