Senators Promote Issues for Lobbying, Ethics Overhaul

Gifts, travel and promises of lucrative lobbying jobs are topics that should be addressed in the legislation the Senate will soon take up, lawmakers from both parties said Thursday.

A group of seven Republicans and four Democrats also said lobbying and ethics overhaul should include greater openness about the thousands of specific projects stuck into larger spending bills, often with little explanation of their purpose or worth.

The group has met over the past several weeks as Congress considers its response to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. The bipartisan group of senators includes Rick Santorum, R-Pa., the Senate GOP leadership's point man on the issue; John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis., partners behind campaign finance reform; and Barack Obama of Illinois, the Democrats' spokesman on the lobbying issue.

The group did not announce specific legislative measures and said there was still disagreement on some details. But the senators said they "are all strongly supportive of meaningful reform."

Two Senate committees plan to meet next week to vote on lobbying and ethics legislation, and the group said it hoped its insights would help shape the debate.

Its recommendations included:

—Slowing the revolving door. Most legislative proposals that have been introduced would double from one year to two years the waiting period for retiring lawmakers and senior staff to accept jobs lobbying Congress.

—Travel. There are several proposals to ban or restrict privately funded travel for lawmakers and end lobbyist participation in fact-finding trips.

—Gifts. Currently, members cannot accept gifts valued at more than $50. Some proposals would ban all gifts. A bill backed by McCain and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., would require reporting of any gift in excess of $20.

—Improved disclosure of lobbyists' contacts with lawmakers.

—Transparency in earmarks, as the pet projects are called. McCain, Obama and Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., another member of the group, have introduced separate bills that would make it harder for lawmakers to slip such projects into legislation. Their proposals would allow lawmakers to eliminate earmarks without killing an entire bill.

—Strengthening ethics guidelines and enforcement. Democrats in the House and Senate support the establishing of independent offices of public integrity to review ethics complaints about members from both outside and within Congress.

House GOP leaders promised in January, when the Abramoff influence-peddling scandal was in the headlines, quick action on lobbying legislation. They also they backed a total ban on privately funded travel.

But the majority party is still trying to work out differences within its own ranks; some Republicans ay more disclosure and better enforcement of existing rules is better than writing new laws.