WASHINGTON – A Senate bid to make former lawmakers wait two years before becoming lobbyists was rejected Thursday by the House Judiciary Committee, reflecting concern that the Democratic leaders' public ethics campaign has gone too far.
In a voice vote that drew no objections from either party, committee members embraced existing language that requires retired members to wait only one year before contacting former colleagues on behalf of paying clients.
A bill the Senate overwhelming passed in January would bar any type of lobbying activity, not just contacting lawmakers, for two years. The "cooling off" periods in both versions also apply to senior congressional aides who become lobbyists and seek to influence former colleagues in Congress.
The full House is scheduled to vote next week on its ethics package, and any differences with the Senate version would have to be resolved in negotiations.
House and Senate Democratic leaders vowed to crack down on lobbying and fundraising abuses when they took control of Congress in January. Some lawmakers, however, feel the advocates have gone overboard, hampering legitimate efforts to raise campaign money and to seek good jobs after leaving Congress.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., called for rejecting the two-year waiting period, saying it would hurt efforts "to attract and retain topflight staff" who might eventually want to become well-paid lobbyists.
Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the committee's senior Republicans, agreed. "A two-year ban does not provide significantly more benefit than a one-year ban," he said.
The decision disappointed some public advocacy groups. They were pleased, however, by the committee's endorsement of a separate bill to make lobbyists disclose their role in a campaign fundraising practice called bundling. It involves soliciting and collecting donations from numerous people and delivering them to a candidate in one bundle.
Under current law, individual check-writers must report their donations, but lobbyist-bundlers often go undetected. The Senate version also would require disclosure of bundling.
Rejection of the two-year waiting period provision disappointed Craig B. Holman of the nonprofit group Public Citizen. Based on his understanding of members' negotiations, he said, the bundling provision "came at the price of the revolving-door" measure regarding lawmakers-turned-lobbyists.
The House committee also rejected a Senate-passed measure to prohibit lobbyists from throwing large parties to honor one or more lawmakers as part of the presidential nominating conventions.
Like the Senate, the House panel also turned thumbs down on the idea of requiring the public disclosure of large fees paid to lobbyists who promote supposedly grassroots efforts to influence Congress. Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., said the change is needed to shed light on "special-interest money disguised as grassroots lobbying."
Conyers, Smith and others said the proposal might inhibit citizens from exercising their constitutional right to petition the government. An array of groups from the political left, right and center had lined up against Meehan's measure.