Feingold's bill would bring lobby-reform fight to Senate

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) plans to introduce a bill to overhaul lobbying laws, joining House Democratic Reps. Marty Meehan (Mass.) and Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), who already have introduced legislation in the House.

Feingold’s involvement, along with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), could give political momentum to legislation that leading House Republicans consider a political stunt.
Patrick G. ryan
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) wants to ban gifts from lobbyists.


Feingold told The Hill he is looking at Meehan’s bill and talking with colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

“I am interested in prohibiting lobbyists from giving gifts to members and in requiring members and campaigns to reimburse the owners of corporate jets at the charter rate when they use those planes for their official or political travel,” Feingold added.

Feingold and McCain led the effort in 2002 to pass the first major reforms of campaign-finance laws since the 1970s. And McCain, who with six other Republicans and seven Democrats inked a deal two weeks ago to avoid the so-called “nuclear option,” is said to be feeling confident about his political standing and has let it be known that he is willing to throw his political weight around.

The impetus for the legislation is the Justice Department’s criminal investigation of GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, an associate and former aide to then-Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas). Together, they earned more than $66 million from Indian tribes over three years, encouraged them to make donations to various GOP lawmakers and allegedly paid illegally for trips taken by some lawmakers.

Despite the media coverage of the congressional and Justice Department investigations, there is some debate as to whether the public has grasped the storyline.

“In the present situation, there is no story here unless another event occurs,” such as an indictment, said a Republican adviser who works with House leaders.

But Geoffrey Garin, president of Peter D. Hart Research Associates, said, “There is a widely and deeply held view that Congress is out of touch.

“The challenge is to connect the dots between issues that people care about and the reasons why Congress is not doing anything.”

McCain, chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, has scheduled a third hearing for June 22 investigating the relationship between the tribes and Abramoff and GOP strategists Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed.

Despite Feingold’s interest, his spokesman did not offer specifics of what his bill might include.

“I understand that the legislation will reflect Meehan, Emanuel. It will be similar. Other details haven’t been worked out yet,” a Feingold aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Meehan’s bill, H.R. 2412, would double to two years the time retiring lawmakers have to wait before lobbying on Capitol Hill. It would also double the fines for failing to file lobbying reports to $100,000 from $50,000. And the bill would require the ethics panel to review privately funded trips before they take place.

Even though Meehan’s bill has 72 co-sponsors, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), it faces hurdles in the House.

No Republican lawmaker has signed on to support the bill, although lawmakers in both parties have said there have been discussions.
And the Democrats’ bill was not referred to the House Administration Committee, which has had oversight of political reform efforts in recent years. Instead, it was sent to the House judiciary, ethics and rules panels.

House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who took a trip to Scotland with Abramoff and tried to insert a provision favorable to Indian gaming into an election-reform bill at Abramoff’s request, is under some political pressure to act. He has not ruled out introducing his own legislation in the near future.

For now, Democrats see political reform as a winning issue.

“We’re great at telling corporate America how to clean up their business. We’re great at telling professional sports how to clean up their business,” said Emanuel, who withdrew his name as an original sponsor of the bill to mitigate GOP criticism. “We’re great at lecturing everyone else except ourselves and the way we conduct our business.”