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House Unveils Lobbying Bill

Rank-and-file House Democrats argued strenuously against major provisions of their leaders’ lobbying rules overhaul after getting a first look at the reform package Tuesday.

But party leaders said that whToile they are taking the concerns of the Democratic Caucus into account, they will move forward with an aggressive schedule to clear a strong bill through committee Thursday for a floor vote next week.

“Everything we said would be in the bill is in the bill,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “This is our position: We said, ‘If you elect us, this is what we’re going to do,’ and we’re doing it.”

With the Memorial Day recess looming, House Democrats face challenges on the same three issues that have stymied progress on the proposal all year: expanding the scope of a cooling-off period for lobbyists fresh off jobs on Capitol Hill, disclosure of “Astroturf” lobbying campaigns, and making public the campaign checks lobbyists bundle for candidates.

The bundling measure has emerged in recent weeks as the most contentious of the three, and it dominated the debate Tuesday. After kicking staffers out so Members could speak more freely, Democratic lawmakers spent more than an hour behind closed doors in the Capitol basement, engaging in what several participants described as a frank and sometimes heated discussion about the reform proposals.

Several in attendance said some lawmakers lodged strong objections to matching a requirement in the Senate-passed reform bill that lobbyists offer on a quarterly basis their best guess of how much campaign money they have arranged, or bundled, for each federal candidate, even if through informal efforts.

“I think what the Senate has done sweeps too broadly and would prove too hard to administer,” said Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), who said his concern is shared by several of his colleagues.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) added that many Members worried the disclosure could put them in a bad light, especially if lobbyists reported inaccurate numbers. Nevertheless, like many members of the freshman class, Cohen said he supported the proposal.

Reform groups, too, have locked in on the measure as key to the success of the overall effort. “In the end, House Democrats are not going to be able to argue that they have provided effective lobbying reform unless they have in that legislation the bundling provision, which is the essence of necessary lobbying disclosure reform legislation,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21.

With the heat on from freshman Democrats elected on reform pledges, government watchdog groups and editorial pages across the country, Democratic leaders are attempting to forge a legislative strategy to attach the proposal to the broader bill.

The plan, for now, is for the House Judiciary Committee to begin its Thursday session by marking up a bundling reform bill, offered earlier this year as a stand-alone measure by Democratic Reps. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and Marty Meehan (Mass.). Then, the panel would move on to the broader package, which would not include the bundling language in its base text, according to sources close to House leadership.

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