House Approves Tighter Earmark, Lobbying Rules

The House overwhelmingly passed a comprehensive ethics and lobbying reform bill Tuesday, accepting tough rules offered by Democratic leaders to crack down on travel, gift-giving to members, bundling of campaign contributions and earmarks dropped into spending bills.

The bill, titled the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, passed 411-8.

The legislation now goes to the Senate, where it earned praise from one senior Republican leadership aide.

"It's a massive bill with some pretty darn strong disclosure requirements. It's tough, tougher than we thought," the aide told FOX News.

The bill bars lobbyists and their clients from giving gifts, including meals and tickets, to lawmakers. It also requires campaign committees to report on the bundled campaign contributions they receive, when contributions reach $15,000 in a six-month period and $30,000 in one year. These reports go to the Federal Election Commission.

Senators seeking targeted spending projects or "earmarks" would have to publicize their plans 48 hours before the Senate votes on the proposals, and declare their families would not directly benefit financially.

But critics, who so far are few, have come out swinging, specifically on the issue of earmark reform that guided the contentious 2006 midterm election cycle and earned a number of Democratic members a seat in Congress.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who single-handedly stopped House and Senate negotiators from meeting to hammer out a compromise bill, immediately pronounced the earmark provisions a farce.

"There's a lot of smoke and mirrors in the new ethics bill, but upon a close look it's obvious that earmark transparency reforms have been eviscerated," he said. "Under this bill, the American people would be forced to trust Senator (Harry) Reid and Senator (Robert) Byrd — two of the biggest earmarkers in the Senate — to certify earmark disclosure. This bill allows the fox to guard the henhouse and makes a joke of ethics reform."

A top aide to Reid, the Senate majority leader, told reporters that the DeMint challenges are "categorically false."

The new bill, written by leadership and committee chairmen, including independent Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, who is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, requires that Byrd, head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and his House counterpart compile detailed lists of earmarks. "Earmarks" are defined as a measure "put in primarily at the request of a member."

The lists are to be available in a public and searchable database 48 hours before a vote on any spending bill.

DeMint and any other member would be allowed to challenge any earmark in the spending bill by introducing an amendment that would strip the offending provision from the bill. This, of course, would take 60 votes to succeed, and past efforts to do this — like the high-profile showdown between spending hawk Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., took on powerful fellow Republican Sen. Ted Stevens over the so-called "bridge to nowhere" — have roundly failed.

Earmarks slipped into spending bills after the measures have been hammered out in a Senate-House conference committee would be exposed by the parliamentarian following a challenge by any member. The parliamentarian would issue a ruling whether or not a measure is "new" to the report or "out of scope" from the report.

If the parliamentarian rules that the item is new or outside the scope of the bill, then supporters of the measure must rally 60 votes to keep the earmark in the bill.

Measures in the new bill include:

— Revolving door extensions: Senators will not be permitted to lobby Congress until two years after leaving the Senate. House members will continue to comply with the current one-year limit.

Corporate jet payments: Senators, Senate candidates and presidential candidates will have to pay charter rates for trips on private planes; the legislation also bars House candidates from accepting trips on private planes. Currently, House members are banned, this continues.

— K-Street Project watch: The bill prohibits members of Congress and their staff from attempting to influence employment decisions in exchange for political access.

— Congressional pensions: Lawmakers who have been charged with bribery, perjury or a similar crime will forfeit their congressional retirement benefits.

— Ban on privately funded trips: Lobbyists and their private-sector clients are barred from paying for multi-day travel trips by senators and their staffs.

— No kissing and lobbying: Spouses will be prohibited from lobbying any Senate office but spouses who were serving as registered lobbyists at least one year prior to the most recent election of their spouse to office or at least one year prior to their marriage to that member are exempted.

— Limits on other familial connections: No senators' immediate family members who are registered lobbyists can lobby their family members' office.

FOX News' Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.