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Today, Public Citizen sent a response to the so-called "Free Speech" Coalition, which complained in a letter to us last week that the Pelosi bill will require more disclosure of lobbying campaigns.
These complaints were also taken up in a recent issue of the right-wing Washington Examiner, which comically aggrandized our role in the legislative effort by labeling the bill as "Pelosi-Claybrook." While we are supportive and involved in the process, our President, Joan Claybrook, has never been elected as a member of Congress, and therefore cannot be a co-sponsor of the bill.
Far more importantly, the coalition is upset by the proposal because they would prefer to keep operating in the dark. The bill requires that sponsors of large and expensive grassroots lobbying campaigns disclose where the money came from and how it was spent. We've seen far too often that wealthy special interests create front groups and run misleading TV ad campaigns (remember Harry and Louise?).
This bill would change all that, without infringing one bit on freedom of speech. Disclosure of the amount and source of money spent to sway the public in ad blitzes on pending legislation is the very essence of what citizens need to act in an informed way.
And it buttresses the First Amendment for the public to know the identity of a speaker in the marketplace of ideas, enabling citizens to draw their own conclusions about the motives and self-interest of the speaker. Instead, this coalition wants to hide in the shadows by concealing their shilling for corporate interests and playing high-stakes political games to deceive voters.
We invite everyone to write the Examiner to correct the record on the proposal and make the case that the Pelosi measure to require reporting of for-profit grassroots lobbying is well-reasoned and long overdue. Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 109th Republican leadership’s failure to enact meaningful lobbying and ethics reform played a decisive role in the 2006 general elections. Despite pronunciations by some during the lobbying reform debate that voters would not care about the plague of corruption scandals, both exit polls and the election results showed corruption was the top concern. The DCCC, in a post-election memo, observed the direct effects of corruption was the addition of 8 additional Democratic seats in districts tarred by the scandals.
The new Democratic leadership – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid – realize the centrality of lobbying and ethics reform to voters, and both pledged to introduce reform legislation as their first items of business in the 110th Congress.
Understanding the significance of this colossal sea change requires a quick review of recent events. Two years ago, there was no interest in addressing in lobbying and ethics abuses except from the most stalwart reformers like Rep. Marty Meehan and Sen. Russell Feingold. And their legislative proposals went nowhere, never getting a hearing.
Then Jack Abramoff hit the Capitol.
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...
In case you still thought the Ethics Committee does a good job of policing the House, they just released their report on Foley-gate. It states that there were no ethics violations; only evidence of negligence on behalf of the Republican leadership to protect the pages.
Mark Foley (R-Fla) resigned in September when his inappropriate emails and instant messages to a former page were made public. The report concluded that Speaker Dennis Hastert's (R-Ill.) office learned of his behavior at least a year earlier.
This report demonstrates just what a failure the Ethics Committee is in enforcing house rules.
Download the report here (pdf.).
The new Congressional session has not yet begun, but this hasn't stopped members from holding out the donation cup to lobbyists. According to The New York Times, restaurants and bars across Capitol Hill have been booked so lobbyists can have the opportunity of paying anywhere from $250 to $5000 just for the chance to meet and greet politicians from the incoming 110th.
From veteran Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) to Sen.-elect Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), members are opening doors to special interest money to pay off their campaign debt and/or build up war chests for the next election cycle.
This is disappointing. After all we heard about ending Abramoff-esque corruption and changing the tide in Washington, you would think Congress might wait a little before soliciting funds from wealthy special interests.
Some lobbyists are also disapponted. Former Republican Representative, Norman Lent (D-N.Y.), lamented the bad rap Abramoff gave to honest lobbyists like himself. Mr. Lent represents Big Oil and Big Pharma.
Not all lobbyists are concerned about lobbying and ethics reform pushed by Pelosi, et al. Erick Gustafson, who represents the Mortgage Bankers Association noted cynically that:
"There will some changes on the margin that will be relatively short-lived...It's like trying to keep water out of your basement. It's a structural problem. You may find a temporary solution, but the water will find a way in. Influence is like water. Money is just a means of influence."
We agree that candidates running for office have little choice but to take campaign contributions from special interests because the cost of running is exorbitant and rising each cycle.
But there is an alternative already in place in several states and cities across the country: publicly funded elections. If that system was in place for federal campaigns, candidates running for Congress who opt in would not owe anyone favors because the money they use would come straight from the voters.
Instead of dialing-for-dollars and meeting with lobbyists, politicians could spend more time serving the public. I think we would really get our money's worth.
It's still hard to believe, but real ethics and lobbying reform could be on the way. And not only in the House. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wants the Senate to get in on the action too - by passing a single comprehensive bill, as opposed to Rep. Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) dismemberment plan.
In a press conference earlier this week, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle and from both chambers came together to voice their support for passing comprehensive reform early next year. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Marty Meehan (D-Mass) called for new rules to break the link between legislation and lobbyists, including the creation of an independent Office of Public Integrity empowered to monitor and investigate ethics compliance.
Public Citizen has been speaking up for such an agency. In addition to the new regulations that would ban gifts from lobbyists (including several other provisions - see more here), an Office of Public Integrity should serve to enforce the new rules for lobbyists and Congressmen alike.
However, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) indicated she had cold-feet, saying she "does not want to overtly politicize the investigative process, nor raise serious constitutional questions."
Looking at who the public voted out of office on Nov. 7th and results from exit polls provided by voters, John McCain hit the nail on the head saying, "The American public wants and demands change, and they will continue to send Congress that message until we improve the system."
Congress must heed the mandate to end corruption in Washington, even if only to avoid the chopping block in '08.