Tuesday, January 10, 2006
In the wake of congressional corruption scandals ranging from Jack Abramoff cheating Native American tribes out of millions to local Congressman Republican Randy Duke Cunningham accepting bribes, the appetite for lobbying reform in Washington is growing. Capitol Hill reporter Laura Strickler has more on newly proposed reforms.
Whether it's oil fields, defense contractors or foster children, there are lobbyists for every special interest in Washington. They press their case for legislation or federal money with members of congress. But some go too far, give bribes and ensnare members of congress, like Cunningham.
It's against the rules to give something worth more than $50. But that didn't stop Cunningham from accepting a Rolls-Royce. The revelation by time magazine that Cunningham wore a wire may mean more representatives may get tied up in the Cunningham scandal. And now there's Jack Abramoff. Alice fisher is Assistant US Attorney General.
Abramoff gave items of value to members of congress including golf trips and campaign contributions
Abramoff cheated Indian tribes out of millions and used their money as campaign contributions to win influence with members of congress. The scandals are forcing the GOP to scrutinize what democrats characterize as the culture of corruption . But despite the chorus of complaints from democrats, opinion polls show the corruption rap has yet to stick to the GOP. San Diego Congresswoman Susan Davis
The reality is that some of the laws that we've had are insufficient - now at at time when the public is asking questions about lobbyists - those of us who play by rules it's helpful to have that cleared up and made more transparent.
California republican congressman David Dreier is now coming up with new lobbying reforms, but there are a number of other proposals in the mix. The plans break down on party lines. Democrats call for an all-out ban on gifts - known as the no cup of coffee' rule in states where it has passed. Again, Democrat Susan Davis.
I really, it's one thing to go to a dinner when you are a guest as a local charity - you're there to make some comments, you are there representing the community - and that's quite appropriate - on the other hand if you are wined and dined all the time by someone who is during the course of dinner asking about legislation that is quite different.
Other members make their own rules. San Diego Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter is chairman of armed services. Lots of defense companies want his ear. But Hunter says lobbyists know he refuses to let them pay for dinner.
People kinda know what I do, I don't drink and I don't smoke so I'm not much fun at these things anyway.
Arizona republican senator John McCain has been leading republican reformers. His proposal would make lobbyists report all gifts over $20, but it would keep the $50 gift limit.
The reason why we don't have a gift ban is that it didn't work in the house and I think it's reasonable.
As scandals grow, attitudes may change. For example, the sponsor of McCain's legislation in the house, Connecticut republican Chris shays waivers on the gift ban.
You know I'm very happy to do that it's simpler to do that to ban the gifts, we can receive a meal up to 50 dollars - some members say what do you do when - I think it probably would be a simpler way to do it.
Aside from lavish gifts, lobbyists also used campaign contributions as bribes. One proposal would stop lobbyists from giving directly to lawmakers. San Diego democratic congressman Bob Filner says that's not good enough.
It would be a healthy step the problem is as long as there is private money someone will find a way around it, that's the only way, can the wife or a husband or a kid?
And that's common. The CEO of MZM who bribed Cunningham had his wife donate more than $30,000 to republican causes. Including $1,000 to Duncan Hunter. McCain's legislation would also make lobbyists disclose any involvement with lawmaker junkets. Hunter says he follows an easier rule- he never goes on privately funded trips. He say for those who do .
My recommendation is get a pre-clearance so that you can be sure that the trip is okay
Lobbying reformers say another problem is that members of congress retire from office and after a year wait they head to lucrative lobbying jobs. Proposed reforms would extend the waiting period to two years. Congresswoman Susan Davis says she won't lobby.
I think the nearest I'd ever get to k street is that my grandkids live there, when i am ready to retire I won't be connected directly to congress, but i really at this pt am not anticipating that this is something I want to do.
Congressman Filner says there's only one way to ultimately clean up campaigns and congress.
I think we should have public financing, it's a continuum, someone who gives to you b/c they believe in you and then you can get over to Cunningham and that's bribes, you have to really stay grounded to keep your integrity here, people taking you out to dinner someone offering to take you home, the party that advocates getting off.
As the scandals spread and trap more members, legislation to o reform lobbying is expected to move quickly.