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We have rebuilt the Watchdog Blog to be smarter, stronger, and better looking.
The new blog covers all of Congress Watch's issues, has improved sydication options, and makes it easier to participate. Now it is the best place to get all of our updates and alerts. When ever Congress is practicing fishy ethics or the Bush Administration is impeding on our rights, this is where you can learn all about it and what steps to take to help stop it.
You can find it here: http://citizen.typepad.com/watchdog_blog/
Today the House picks back up with its work to end the “culture of corruption” in Washington. The House Judiciary’s subcommittee on the constitution, civil rights and civil liberties is discussing the bill of comprehensive reforms passed by the Senate, S.1, in a hearing today. This is an excellent place to begin. But will the panel and House leadership make their bill match their promises to be the most "ethical Congress" in history?
Public Citizen submitted a letter today to the subcommittee and the other members of Congress, urging them to take a tough stand in some key areas. First, they need to shine sunlight on the secret fundraising done by lobbyists. As noted in a piece by Congress Watch Director Laura MacCleery posted on Commondreams.org, the public has a right to know who is involved in the practice of “bundling” gobs of campaign cash at lavish fundraisers or through lobbyist networks. These bundled contributions add up to influence and access for lobbyist bundlers and their clients.
The House also must slow the revolving door between K Street and Capitol Hill. Lobbying restrictions are supposed to prevent government employees from stepping through the revolving door between the Capitol and “K Street” and selling out the public by exploiting the contacts they made while in office. Developments in recent years have shown these laws need MUCH improvement. Check out our post on this blog on Zell Miller’s turn through the revolving door.
The public also needs to know who is funding “Astroturf” lobbying. Business journalist Gary Weiss lays it all out in “Astroturfing Congress” in Forbes.
Perhaps the biggest opportunity for the new House to put their stamp on real reform is to create an independent monitoring and enforcement entity. The House can best the Senate by making sure all of these new laws and rules actually get enforced.
Let’s hope the members of the people’s House fulfill their promise. This is their moment to make Congress more accountable and inspire confidence in a government for and by the people.
Current revolving door rules prohibit ex-Congressmen from lobbying their old colleagues for one year after they leave office.
In September 2005, ex-Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) was still within his one year probation period when became a registered lobbyist for the firm of McKenna, Long and Aldridge. According to disclosure forms, the firm received $60,000 from Lockheed Aeronautical Systems for him and others to lobby the House, Senate and Department of Defense.
If he, in fact, lobbied any Congressmen, he broke the law. But there is no way of knowing by looking at the disclosure forms, because they don’t say exactly what he did.
Lobbying restrictions are supposed to prevent government employees from stepping through the revolving door between the Capitol and “K Street” and selling out the public by exploiting the contacts they made while in office. Developments in recent years have shown they need MUCH improvement.
For example, by July 2005, 18 recently departed members of Congress had already accepted jobs at lobbying firms only six months into retirement. As noted by Public Citizen’s advocate Craig Holman in Roll Call today, our research shows that from 1998 through 2004, 43 percent of all retiring Members of Congress (those retiring for reasons other than death or conviction) spun through the revolving door to become lobbyists. Anecdotal evidence indicates very high salaries, sometimes reaching millions.
Last week, Public Citizen sent a letter [pdf] to Rep. Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Reid (D-Nev.) asking them to prevent the ethically-questionable activity of former Congressmen by enacting stricter disclosure requirements, a ban on all lobbying activities for a two-year cooling-off period, and the creation of an independent Office of Public Integrity to enforce the ethics rules.
Tell your member of Congress it’s time to prevent public officials from cashing in their public service and selling out the American people.
Today, Public Citizen advocate Craig Holman is testifying today before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about ways to improve the Executive Branch Reform Act of 2007, a bill that is currently separate from the House lobbying reform legislation, but would slow the revolving door between the executive branch and industry.
You can read his testimony here: http://www.citizen.org/documents/craigtestimony.pdf
Suspect #1: Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) - He recently called for the abolishment of the presidential public funding system. His defense is that presidential candidates are choosing not to opt-in and that the public doesn't want to pay for it. McConnell says fewer people are checking a box on the federal tax forms to give $3 to program. Is it true that the public doesn't want to pay for this? A poll from last summer showed that 74% percent of the public supports publicly funded elections. They believe the cost of running for office is out of control and would rather it be paid for by the public than by special interests. Also, many states and municipalities have passed public funding or “Clean Elections.”
Suspect #2: The Presidential Candidates - Current candidates have all decided to fund their campaigns from private sources. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) is asking her biggest supporters to fork over $1,000,000. At this rate, the 2008 presidential candidates could be expected to raise more than $500,000,000. With these exorbitant entrance fees for the presidential elections, it is no wonder the public funding system can’t keep up. No one in 1974 ever expected this kind of largess.
On a side note - it is worth mentioning that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has pledged that if he makes it to the general election, he will give back all his privately raised money and use the public system, if (and this is a BIG "if") his opponent does the same. His attempt to rescue the system is honorable, but it may end up a day late and a dollar short.
Suspect #3: The 109th Congress - The presidential public financing system has been in trouble for some time with both Bush and Kerry opting out in their primaries in 2004. Congress should have passed the bills by Reps. Shays and Meehan and by Sen. Feingold and McCain when it had the chance to update the presidential public funding system to make it a viable option for the 2008 slate of candidates. Luckily, bill was re-introduced last month and the 110th Congress can correct a past mistake.
What's the verdict? It may be too late for 2008, but the system can and must be salvaged.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) thinks the lobbying and ethics reforms passed in January are too strong. He was one of only two senators who voted against it. And if the House passes it, he claims he won't run for re-election in 2010:
"If this becomes law, I will guarantee you I won't run again....I will promise you, very few people in the future will run for Senate or Congress because every campaign will be about somebody making a complaint."
Sen. Coburn expressed concern that if a senator committed an "accidental mistake" it could cost up to $500,000 in legal fees. While we are not sure where this figure comes from, we are more curious what type of "accidental mistakes" Sen. Coburn is afraid he may make. Is he afraid he might be an accidental tourist in Scotland, perhaps?
Today, the Washington Post editorialized about Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-N.Y.) one-million-dollar ask of supporters for her presidential bid. This dwarfs the $200,000 which Bush asked prospective Rangers to raise. Every four years, the bar for presidential fundraising shoots skywards - 2008 will surely take us to new stomach-turning heights.
The Federal Election Commission sets contribution limits at $2,300 per person for the primary, and allows another $2,300 per person for the general election. Big donors get around these limits by driving truck loads of cash through a loophole known as bundling. It allows people (especially those of the lobbyist variety) to keep funneling money to candidates long after reaching their personal limit. Examples of bundling include lobbyist who host fundraisers or corporate CEO who ask employees to make donations.
If running for president means asking supporters to gather this obscene amount of money, the public deserves to know who the bundlers are, whose money they are bundling and how much they bundle. Both Bush and Kerry chose to tell the public this information in the 2004 election, but such disclosure of bundling is entirely voluntary. It should be mandatory.
Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) are co-sponsoring a bill (H.R. 633) that would require disclosure of bundling by lobbyists for all presidential and congressional candidates. The Senate already passed this measure in their lobbying and ethics reform bill (S. 1). You can take action here to ensure the House does the same.
The AP reports, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) has fulfilled a unique campaign promise. At end of each day, his office posts a schedule of what he did and with whom he met.
Constituents can see how much time he is in the gym or who is joining him for lunch. For instance, at 2:15pm on January 30, 2007, he met with with Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post for an interview.
Such transparency is a remarkable step forward for government accountability and helps put pressure on other senators to open up about how they spend their time. They are, after all, our public servants and unless they have something to hide, they ought to follow his lead.
Wondering why your senator doesn't do the same? Why not ask?
Click here to find your Senators' phone number, or call the Senate switchboard at (202) 224-3121.
Let us know what you hear by commenting to this blog below.
Tonight we’ll be listening closely to the President’s State of the Union address. This year we hope he levels with the American people. Unfortunately, as we’ve learned in previous State of the Union addresses, this president’s assertions are not always "reality-based."
As an example from his 2006 address, we were told that lawsuits were driving doctors out of practice - causing a shortage of ob-gyns in 1,500 counties. This was not true and a blatant attempt to urge the Congress to enact medical liability reform.
Today, Public Citizen released an analysis [pdf] of this claim that shows the real facts.
So, will we hear the truth from the President tonight?
What we’d like to hear is an honest assessment and a solid plan for moving our nation out of an era of corruption and lies and into a future of more transparency and integrity in our government. However, we won't hold our breath.
So, we’re asking you.
Post your own "address" on the true State of the Union in comments to this blog and we’ll continue to work to get Congress and the President to listen to you, the people.
St. Thomas, U.S.V.I., is a beautiful Caribbean island adjacent to Puerto Rico. Its white beaches and cool tropical breezes are magnets for tourists, including Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY). But unlike most visitors, Rangel had the cost of his airfare and accommodations covered by the New York Carib News when he visited St. Thomas in November 2005. The trip was officially intended to allow Rangel to attend talks about U.S.-Caribbean business issues. Rangel’s acceptance of the trip was not illegal, but he failed to report the trip within the required 30-day-period.
Apparently, such tardy reporting is a problem for quite a few in Congress. In 2005, 28 Republicans and 25 Democrats failed to properly report privately funded trips, according to PoliticalMoneyLine.
Are these Members hiding something or are they just being lazy? Either way, the days of laissez faire travel enforcement may be drawing to a close. The reform proposal that Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) plans to introduce in January (summary.pdf) would ban lobbyists from privately funded trips and require the disclosure of privately funded trips’ itineraries, purposes and passenger lists. The poor compliance with the current travel rules presents just one more point in favor of establishing an independent Office of Public Integrity, for which Public Citizen has long advocated. Pelosi has expressed sympathy for the idea, but is more likely to study the issue than press for the new agency at once.
You can tell her yourself why the choice is a no-brainer here.
Tom DeLay has his own
propaganda site blog. It's mission? To sell the DeLay brand in the "marketplace of ideas" because the blogophere is "shaping and motivating the current conservative movement...."
Well, it seems to be achieving that mission. Today's comments section, from the "Call to Action" post, offers a vibrant discussion from conservatives who want DeLay out of the current conservative movement. Ethan Allen Smith writes:
"I appreciate that your intentions may be to bring some sort
of unity to the conservative movement, but let me be blunt
when I say simply that you are not the person to accomplish
this. In fact, you run the risk of doing more damage simply
by being so public."
DeLay is also using his blog to recruit for his Grassroots Action and Information Network (GAIN), which will oppose "secular progressive pressure groups and radical leftist agendas." Members get "insider" political information and notifications of chances to volunteer.
"Where do I sign up," you ask?
Well, before you get too excited about joining, make sure you have two references ready to vouch for your conservative values and $52 for yearly membership dues.
Also be sure to comment on the various posts on the blog or to send DeLay a question, such as whether the $52 goes to his legal defense fund or why he looked so gleefully happy in his mug shot last spring...