House votes for a clearer lens on campaign donations
A bill approved Thursday requires new disclosure of lobbyists' role in 'bundling' checks from many contributors, destined for lawmakers' war chests.
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Other avenues of influence include paying for conferences or retreats held by lawmakers, or contributing to foundations or other entities designated by members of Congress – or even named after members.Skip to next paragraph
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Lobbyists must disclose role
Under the terms of the House bill, those practices would change. Lobbyists could still bundle contributions, but now they would have to disclose themselves as the bundler of donations totaling more than $5,000 in a quarter, as well as give the names of their employers. Lobbyists also must certify that they have not given gifts to any member of Congress in violation of House or Senate rules.
The fact that this information would become available electronically is just as important as the rules changes.
"For years Congress has been putting out information about itself, but constituents back home don't have any access to it," says Massie Ritsch, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics.
The House bill would make accessible over the Internet material – such a lawmakers' travel records – now available only in binders in the basement of the Cannon House Office Building.
"By making the lobbying and travel reports available electronically, Congress is opening its doors a little more to the constituents back home," he adds. "We know from our work over 25 years that there are plenty of people interested in this."
House Democratic leaders faced stiff resistance in their own caucus over concerns that the new disclosure requirements could limit help from K Street just as those resources were beginning to shift toward members of the new majority.
In a Thursday briefing, those leaders said they were committed to changing the ways of Washington.
"In the last 40 years there have been four major elections: 1974, 1982, 1994, and 2006. In three out of the four elections, ethics and the official conduct of Washington played a major role," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D) of Illinois. "In two of those elections, the Congress changed hands because of it. The American people did not think that their interests and their voices had the same weight as the lobbyists and the interests that they represented."
The Senate version differs
The Senate passed its version of ethics and lobbying reform on Jan. 18. That bill prohibits senators and their staff members from accepting gifts and free meals from lobbyists and requires earmarks to be publicized 48 hours before consideration of a bill.
The Senate bill also imposes a two-year cooling-off period before ex-members can become federally registered lobbyists. House Democrats had proposed a similar two-year ban, but dropped it from the final bill.
After the Memorial Day break, House and Senate leaders will nominate negotiators to reconcile differences in the bills.
"We will get a lobbying bill sometime in the near future," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, in briefing with reporters on Friday.