WASHINGTON – House Democratic leaders are ready for a vote on an ethics bill designed to shed new light on big-time fundraising by lobbyists, and on stealthy spending tactics by lawmakers.
The leadership hoped for easy passage Tuesday of the bill, which some members grumble about privately but fear to oppose publicly. Senate leaders want to give it final approval by week's end.
The bill would require lawmakers to disclose those lobbyists who raise $15,000 or more for them within a six-month period by "bundling" donations from many people. It also would bar lobbyists and their clients from giving gifts to lawmakers.
The bill would require former House members to wait a year before lobbying Congress in person. Ex-senators would have to wait two years.
The legislation is largely in response to scandals involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif. Both are in prison, convicted of corruption charges that involved lobbyists seeking targeted spending items known as earmarks.
Fred Wertheimer, director of the nonprofit group Democracy21, called the measure "landmark lobbying and ethics reform."
The bill would require senators seeking earmarks in spending bills to identify themselves and their proposed projects in publicly available data bases at least two days before the Senate votes on them. Senators would have to certify that they and their immediate relatives have no direct financial interest in the proposed earmark.
The House made similar changes to its earmarks rules in January.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., signaled the bill will meet resistance in the Senate. It "guts key earmark reforms that both houses of Congress approved overwhelmingly," he said.
Coburn particularly objected to a revision that would allow committee chairmen or the Senate majority leader — not the Senate parliamentarian — to rule on whether earmark disclosure requirements have been met.