WASHINGTON – Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Thursday hailed Senate passage of the most comprehensive bipartisan lobbying and ethics reform bill in a generation as a “road to reform” that will lead to restored public trust in Congress by guaranteeing the integrity and accountability of its elected officials.
Lieberman, one of the co-authors of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, S. 1, said the legislation “shines much-needed light in corners and corridors of the Capitol too long left dark” by increasing transparency and disclosure of activities between lawmakers and lobbyists.
The bill passed the Senate by an overwhelming vote of 83-14.
“The people who are good enough to honor us by sending us here are frustrated because they think too often we put partisan interests ahead of public interest – ahead of their interests,” Lieberman said on the floor of the Senate shortly before passage. “When one member is accused or convicted of an ethical or legal lapse, it affects the attitude of the people toward the entire institution. And these ethical lapses have come with increasing frequency.
“We adopt laws to try to create clarity of rules and create incentives for our society overall and, in this case ourselves, to guide us, to encourage us, hopefully to scare us into doing the right thing. And it is in that context that I rise with real enthusiasm to support the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. It is not only the right thing to do in every substantive way, but it is the right thing to do in the larger sense of trying to rebuild the respect that the American people have for this institution and for all of use who are members of it.”
HSGAC was responsible for a major portion of the bill. The Rules Committee was also closely involved in its drafting and was responsible for provisions that tighten Senate ethics rules.
The measure amends the Lobbyist Disclosure Act (LDA) by requiring lobbyists to file semiannual reports detailing for the first time campaign contributions, payments for events to honor Members or to entities controlled by Members, and donations to Presidential libraries or inaugural committees.
It also would bring the LDA into the age of the Internet by requiring electronic filings, and by requiring quarterly – rather than semiannual – reports detailing lobbying activities for specific clients. All reports filed under the LDA will be made public on House and Senate websites.
Other provisions of the bill would:
· Prohibit lobbyists and their clients from giving gifts, including free meals and tickets, to Senators and their staffs;
· Require “bundled” campaign contributions made by lobbyists to federal candidates to be disclosed to the public and published on the Federal Election Commission website;
· Allow greater transparency in earmarking and the legislative process by requiring all earmarks included in bills and conference reports, and their sponsors be identified on the internet at least 48 hours before Senate votes;require Senators to certify that they and their immediate family members have no financial interest in the earmarks they request; end the practice of secret Senate holds and make conference reports available for public review on the internet 48 hours before the vote;
· Shine a spotlight on “stealth coalitions” by requiring greater disclosure of the identity of individual organizations that contribute to collective and focused lobbying efforts;
· Limit privately funded travel by barring lobbyists and their private-sector clients from paying for multi-day travel trips by Senators and their staffs;
· Require Senators, Senate candidates and Presidential candidates to pay charter rates for trips on private planes; bars House candidates from accepting trips on private planes;
· Prohibit Senators and their senior staff from gaining undue lobbying access by increasing the “cooling off” period for Senators from one to two years before they can lobby Congress;
prohibits senior Senate staff from lobbying contacts with the entire Senate for one year, instead of just their former employing office;
· Require better enforcement mechanisms by increasing civil penalties under the LDA, and by creating a new criminal penalty for knowingly failing to comply with the Act;
· Require annual audits of lobbyist filings by the Government Accountability Office as well as regular reporting by the Department of Justice on actions they take against those who violate the rules;
· Prohibit Members of Congress from attending national political convention parties held in their honor and paid for by lobbyists or their clients; · Prohibit Members of Congress and their staff from attempting to influence employment decisions in exchange for political access;
· Deny Congressional retirement benefits to Members of Congress who are convicted of bribery, perjury and other similar crimes.
The House of Representatives passed the final bill on Tuesday by a vote of 411-8. It now goes to the President for signature into law.