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Disclosure Eased in Lobbying Bill

In a bid to make lobbying reform legislation a better candidate for passage this week, House Republican leaders have stripped out language forcing lobbyists to provide detailed disclosure of fundraising activities and contacts with lawmakers.

In addition, the House leadership has removed language from the lobbying bill that would have curbed the groups known as 527s. The leadership expects that the provision — which is strongly opposed by most Democrats — will be added to the package when the bill heads to conference with the Senate.

House Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) scrubbed the requirement that lobbyists list contacts with lawmakers because he feared that it “could have a chilling effect on lobbying,” his spokeswoman said.

In all, the changes to the bill make the House version — which had already been described as less rigorous than the Senate-passed lobbying measure — weaker still.

The House bill being sent to the floor “is an illusion designed to try to sell the idea that you’re doing reform while holding on to all the perks and benefits that lobbyists provide to Members,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21. “It’s not going to sell to the public.”

GOP leaders moved last week to prepare the lobbying proposal for floor time this Thursday, hoping to set up a much-needed legislative success story for the Republican Conference, which has recently been rattled by infighting, as well as to inoculate the party against Democratic charges of corruption in the run-up to the midterm elections.

The lobbying bill was initially written with provisions curbing 527s, and the language in the bill survived committee markups even as the House created and approved a stand-alone bill that covered similar ground. The main difference between the stand-alone bill and the 527 language in the lobbying bill was that the former took effect immediately, rather than in 60 days, and included a provision urged by conservatives that removed caps on coordinated spending by party committees.

Adding the 527 language to the bill is a political priority for Republicans, since Democrats have traditionally raised more money using the groups. But including the campaign finance regulation in the lobbying overhaul could set up a clash with the Senate, where Democrats have threatened to filibuster legislation addressing the groups.

Kevin Madden, spokesman for House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), said “it’s expected that the 527 reform could come back” in a conference committee.

A House GOP leadership aide added, “Any vehicle we can get that onto that will have enough votes, we will do that.”

The provision would likely be the more aggressive version passed narrowly by the House in stand-alone form.

The Rules panel meets Wednesday to decide on amendments and ground rules for debate on the bill. Democrats and outside watchdog groups who contend that the bill is too weak say they will fight a rule that bars any amendments.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has asked Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to at least allow for consideration of the Democrats’ overhaul plan, which goes significantly further than the package heading to the floor.

“It would be insulting to the ideals of democracy if debate on a bill called ‘The Lobbying Accountability and Transparency Act’ were to be conducted under restrictive rules that limit discussion and close the legislative process,” she wrote in a letter to Hastert.

Watchdog groups, meanwhile, say several amendments aimed at increasing disclosure, tightening conduct by lawmakers, and establishing an outside ethics office need to be added before they will offer their support.

Madden defended the bill as an important step forward. “There will always be a cottage industry of critics who do only that — just criticize,” he said. “But these are important reforms, and they’re geared toward the public’s right to know.”

Rules spokeswoman Jo Maney said that lawmakers are being asked to submit amendments by Tuesday evening.

Watchdogs said they are expecting at least four amendments from Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), provided they are allowed.

The two campaign finance reformers are set to team on an amendment that would establish an Office of Public Integrity to oversee compliance with ethics rules. Meehan plans to offer further amendments to force new disclosures on grass-roots lobbying campaigns and slow the revolving door between Congress and K Street. Shays will propose an amendment forcing lawmakers to pay charter rates when flying on corporate jets, insiders said.

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