Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Lobbying Reform: GOP and Democratic Proposals, Compare and Contrast

Tuesday House Democrats lead by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Chairman of the House Rules Committee David Dreier (R-CA) outlined their principles for lobbying reform in the House of Representatives. Yesterday House Democrats lead by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) offered their own set of reforms.

From the House GOP:

A ban on privately-funded travel;

A significantly stronger gift ban, preventing members and staff from personally benefiting from gifts from lobbyists;

The elimination of floor and gym access for former members who are registered lobbyists;

Expanding the post-employment lobbying ban to two years for members and senior staff;

The forfeiture of a Congressional pension for any member convicted of a felony related to their official duties;

Stronger and more frequent disclosure on the part of lobbyists and third parties; and,

Make the ethics committee more user-friendly and require training for all members and staff.

From the House Democrats:

Ban all gifts and travel from lobbyists. Period.

Kill the K Street Project, the Republican plan that trades favors for lobbying jobs, and toughen public disclosure of lobbyist activity.

Remove the revolving door by doubling the amount of time Members and staff are prohibited from going from legislating to lobbying. Stop legislators from negotiating legislation, while also negotiating employment contracts for themselves with those who benefit from that legislation. Keep former Members who are lobbyists off the floor of Congress.

Next we would end the ‘dead of night’ special interest provisions that turn bills into special-interest giveaways. Lawmakers must have the opportunity to read every bill before they vote on it. It’s common sense.

Eliminate the practice of irresponsible no-bid contracts, bring criminal penalties against war profiteers, and ensure that the government contracting process is honest, open, competitive, and fair. No more Halliburtons.

Prohibit cronyism in key appointments by making sure any individual appointed to a position has proven credentials. Brownie certainly wasn’t doing a ‘heck of a job’ for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

Both proposals agree on two things – they would double from one to two years the length of time that House members and senior staff could become registered lobbyists and would ban privately-funded travel. It should be noted that the proposed ban on privately-funded travel would not change the practice of elected official traveling on private jets and reimbursing their hosts at charter rather than first class rates.

Arguably both agree on a gift ban although Hastert’s comments indicated that he thought that there was a distinction between a House member getting a T-shirt or baseball cap from a group or students (okay) versus being taken to lunch by a lobbyist (not okay). Both proposals also called for “stronger” or “toughening” disclosures for lobbyists.

The House GOP proposal included a couple of specific provisions not included in the Democratic proposal, namely eliminating floor and gym access for former members that are registered lobbyists and the forfeiture of Congressional pensions for any member convicted of a felony related to their official duties. IMO the access restriction for former House members is probably one of the most significant proposals because that special access is what makes former Congressmen so sought after as lobbyists. Without being able approach their former colleagues on the floor at in private at the gym, their ability to exert any special influence would be curtailed especially while legislation is debated on the floor. This doesn’t mean that the knowledge they’ve acquired during their service or the relationships they’ve built wouldn’t give them an edge, but it would make them less appealing.

Neither set of proposals specifically addressed the issue of earmarks although Speaker Hastert said that was because it would be addressed in a separate set of proposals in February. The Democratic proposal did allude to “dead of night” provisions – presumably this means adding something into a bill before members have a chance to read it. It remains to be seen what if anything would be done about requiring that earmarks be listed in the main bill (as opposed to the record) so that members can see what the amounts are specifically being spent on or restricting the ability of the House to waive the House rules requiring that legislation be made available three days in advance (what you mean you didn’t know that this was already the rule and that it’s routinely waived?).

The remaining proposals by the House Democrats seem to be more about political posturing than any serious calls for reform. The gratuitous shot at former FEMA Director Michael Brown over Hurricane Katrina is particularly disgusting not only because the bulk of the political failure seems to belong at the State and local level but because the House isn’t even involved in either the appointment (executive branch) or confirmation (Senate) process. The reference to Halliburton and conflating no-bid contracts and “war profiteering” for its whopping 2% profit margin suggests that the interest of Minority Leader Pelosi is in the issue of corruption rather than constructive reforms to fix it.

Cross-posted at Redstate