It's Time to Loosen Lobbyists' Firm Grip on Congress

An odd alliance of Washington insiders recently sat down around a table to solve a "problem." Their guest list included lobbyists from the National Association of Business PACs (NABPAC), the AFL-CIO, and the American Trial Lawyers Association.

It's hard to imagine this group of lobbyists sitting down and agreeing on anything. On this day, however, they apparently did agree on one thing - that it's not in their best interest for Congress to pass the Bipartisan Clean Congress Act (HR 2566).

This group, in other words, is serious about putting a stop to campaign and ethics reforms.

In my district and those of other determined reformers in Congress, NABPAC has employed schoolyard bullying tactics - backed by at least a $100,000 budget - to keep their choke-hold on our democracy. They've run newspaper and radio ads suggesting they, the six-figure salaried lobbyists, are the true guardians of the little guy and that by cutting them out of the process, Mr. and Mrs. Voter won't have a voice.

They see their big salaries, posh fund-raisers, and ability to mingle with the powerful slipping away as we get closer to passing the Bipartisan Clean Congress Act. The cost of their power-brokering - for subsidies, corporate welfare, and special privilege - is gridlock in Congress and a heavy tax burden, coupled with mountains of federal debt, on the backs of American taxpayers.

The Bipartisan Clean Congress Act takes away lobbyists' ability to buy votes with campaign contributions. It bans all contributions from political-action committees; restricts what lobbyists can contribute to their favorite candidates; requires the bulk of contributions to come from a candidate's home state; and bans election-year, taxpayer-paid mass mailings by incumbents.

So when one news article reported on the possible outcome of this summit of lobbyists, saying "coalition members would not try to agree on what should be done [about ethics reforms], instead, perhaps asking for a commission to recommend solutions," I had to laugh.

Another study? Another commission? We've seen that before. It's not what the American people asked for when they rebelled at the ballot box in 1992 and 1994. They wanted action. The lobbyists are going to do everything in their power to make sure voters don't get it.

Voters must be vigilant and keep pressure on their representatives in Congress. If a voter is as disgruntled by this system as I am, he or she must insist that incumbents deliver on the change they promised in the last two elections. Voters must ensure that their representatives sign the discharge petition and take a vote.

We're so serious about getting the job done that we've proposed a procedural rule that gives all sides of this debate a fair opportunity to vote on the solution of their choice.

Our bill has strong support from "good government" groups such as Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, Public Citizen, and United We Stand America. We've also worked closely with other grass-roots organizations such as the Christian Coalition to perfect the bill's language so that our intent to encourage grass-roots participation is protected.

We realize that not everyone will agree with our approach. For that reason, we wrote our discharge petition to first give the Bipartisan Clean Congress Act a vote on the floor of the House. Then, if it is defeated, we'll allow a vote on a Democrat version. If that fails, we'll let Republicans take a swat at it. With such an open process, no one except the Washington lobbyists need fear a vote on these reforms.

Under the Bipartisan Clean Congress Act, political pressure would be applied by the people who actually vote for us in our districts and states and those who have to live with the decisions we make, rather than "inside the beltway" lobbyists, who line their pockets with profits generated by the Washington fund-raising machine.

What I and most Americans oppose is 14,000 lobbyists handing out cash like candy between votes in the House and in the Senate. They have become the third party in our country, and they have a steel grip on our representative government.

Voters can loosen lobbyists' grip. They can reclaim their right as a voter to be heard above the sound of money changing in the halls of Congress.

Voters should call their representatives and tell them to support giving Americans a vote on the Bipartisan Clean Congress Act by signing discharge petition No. 12 in the House, or letting S 1219 come to the floor for a vote in the Senate.

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