Just two days after former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) announced that he would resign his seat amid a widening corruption probe, House Republicans passed one of their party’s key political priorities: limiting the fundraising ability of the independent nonprofit groups called 527s.
The 527 measure passed the full House Wednesday afternoon, 218-209, with 18 Republicans voting against the measure and seven
Democrats voting for it. The bill brings 527 groups under the same federal limits as political action committees, closing what Republicans publicly call a soft-money loophole and privately concede is a tool that disproportionately helps Democrats.
Earlier in the day, the House Judiciary Committee gave a narrow thumbs-up to legislation designed to blunt public anger over lobbying scandals. The panel approved the measure by an 18-16 margin, with some Republicans saying that the bill goes too far and most Democrats criticizing it for falling short of genuine reform.
Then, early Wednesday evening, the House Rules Committee added new provisions to its piece of the bill. And today, the Government Reform and House Administration committees take up the bill. The fifth panel with jurisdiction, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, or ethics, has not yet scheduled work on the bill.
Wednesday’s developments may suggest new momentum for a lobbying rules revamp that had been hobbled in recent weeks by resistance from members of the GOP rank-and-file. But several Republicans denied that DeLay’s announcement is having any impact on the course of reform legislation.
Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said the Texan’s announced resignation wouldn’t “have any bearing at all” on the legislation.
And Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, said lobbying reform is proceeding “on its own speed.”
The 527 bill passed despite opposition from some leading House conservatives, including Republican Study Committee Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.), who argued that it curtailed free speech.
“The point is to get rid of soft money and make sure everyone is accountable,” House Administration Chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) said after the vote.
The measure also removes spending limits on parties coordinating with individual candidates.
Still, the House crackdown on 527 groups — which collectively spent more than $400 million on the 2004 elections — is likely to be largely symbolic, because Senate Democrats have pledged to block any similar effort in their chamber.
House Democrats dismissed the 527 measure as politically motivated, and they called the lobbying bill too meager to amount to real reform.
“The Republican leadership has chosen to take on political organizations in a cynical attempt to appear serious about reform and divert attention from their own ethical failures,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said of the GOP drive to curb 527s. “If this body were serious about reform, we’d be debating the best way to eliminate the culture of corruption.”
On the broader lobbying bill, the Judiciary Committee added some provisions to the measure.
Disclosures by lobbyists — already doubled in frequency to force quarterly, online reports — were expanded include all of their fundraising activity for and contributions to lawmakers’ campaigns and leadership political action committees, as well as events or outside groups associated with them.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.