The March Toward Meaningful Lobbying and Ethics Reform

Under the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House in a single day approved some of the most critical new ethics rules changes seen in a decade. Lobbyists, and organizations that employ them, are now banned from giving gifts of any value to members of Congress and their staff; prohibited from arranging or paying for congressional travel, except for one-day trips to make a speech or attend a conference; and barred from flying on private corporate jets for campaign purposes, personal trips and travel connected to official duties. Further, the growing wave of earmarks in appropriations and tax bills must be identified with a specific congressional sponsor.

Nearly all of these reforms were rebuked by the House and the Senate last year. Following the November elections, the same reforms were adopted by a near-unanimous vote of 430-to-1, with Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) as the lone dissenting vote.

Next on the reform agenda for Pelosi is her legislative package, which regulates the conduct of persons outside the House (i.e., lobbyists and former members). This package is expected to contain an equally impressive set of legislative reforms, such as slowing the revolving door and enhancing disclosure of fundraising activity by lobbyists and Astroturf lobbying.

This week the Senate begins debate on its version of lobbying and ethics reform. One key provision likely to be in both the House and Senate reform bills is coming under attack by a coalition of for-profit direct mail and lobbying firms. The Free Speech Coalition, Incorporated – an entity led by James Bopp (James Madison Center), Paul Weyrich (Free Congress Foundation), Richard Viguerie (ConservativeHQ.com), Rev. Louis Sheldon (Traditional Values Coalition), Edward Nelson (U.S. Border Patrol) and others – is highly critical of the “Astroturf lobbying