Two House panels ready lobbying reform bills

Democrats on the House Rules Committee were readying eight amendments to the GOP leadership’s lobbying and ethics bill late yesterday, hours after the House Judiciary Committee approved its portions of the reform package on a largely party-line vote.

Committee Democrats, led by ranking member Rep. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.), focused their suggested fixes on the legislative process rather than adding new lobbying bans or disclosure requirements.

One of the likely Democratic amendments would require public disclosure of all earmarks, including those diverted to federal entities — a proposal offered by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) during his chamber’s lobbying and ethics debate but ultimately shelved.

Another Democratic amendment would place more stringent limits on member use of corporate jets, which was similarly considered but not included in the Senate’s reform bill. A third Democratic amendment, christened “The Hammer Rule” in a minority release yesterday, aimed to “crack down on arm-twisting and influence peddling on the House floor,” a reference to the reputation of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) for enforcing hard-line partisan discipline during floor votes.

“This will be one of the final opportunities we will have to strengthen this weak bill. There will be no hiding from the votes taken in committee from the majority party on these amendments,” Slaughter said in a statement accompanying the Democratic amendment preview.

At press time, debate on the House bill limiting donations to political groups known as 527s had postponed the Rules Committee’s lobbying and ethics markup. Earlier yesterday, Judiciary became the first committee to report portions of the reform package under its jurisdiction, voting 18-16 to approve the bill.

Public Citizen, part of a coalition of watchdog groups pushing for the strongest possible lobbying and ethics bill, issued a statement decrying the Judiciary Committee’s rejection of several Democratic amendments.

“If you think the U.S. Senate let down the American people by failing to pass meaningful lobbying reform legislation, take a look at what is coming out of the U.S. House of Representatives,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook, who called the House bill “a charade that will whitewash corruption, not clean it up.”

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), chairman of the judiciary panel, added an amendment during his markup to levy criminal penalties on members and lobbyists who seek to hide elements of their required ethics disclosures.