Common Cause breaks from reform pack

The coalition of watchdog groups that has lobbied with one voice all year on lobbying and ethics reform yesterday urged the House ethics committee to abandon its new pre-approval system for privately funded travel. But one member of the coalition was conspicuously absent.

Common Cause, which testified at last week’s unprecedented public meeting of the ethics panel, did not sign on to yesterday’s ethics letter, sent to all House members and signed by the group’s five usual pro-reform cohorts. The letter warns ethics panel Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) that his committee “has no public credibility” and asks Hastings to bar members from taking private trips, a plan originally endorsed by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), or support the Democratic leadership’s lobbying and ethics legislation.

Common Cause President Chellie Pingree took a much lighter approach in her appearance before the ethics panel, formally known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, advising that strong enforcement of travel rules would be the best deterrent to abuses. Her group’s absence from the letter is the latest indication that Common Cause has split from its fellow coalition members — Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG — on the travel issue.

“We wanted them to list to us, wanted them to hear us,” said Common Cause spokeswoman Mary Boyle of lawmakers on the ethics panel. “They invited us in, gave us a seat at the table, and we wanted to take advantage of it.”