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Members Give Cool Reception to Obama’s New Lobbying Proposals

Democratic lawmakers said they were uncertain they could muster broad Congressional support for new lobbying rules President Barack Obama proposed Wednesday night in his State of the Union address.“I want to see the details,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said following Obama’s speech. “A lot of lobbyists are very helpful in fighting for their folks and a lot of lobbyists work very, very hard.”In his Wednesday address, Obama used last week’s Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which threw out broad federal restrictions on corporate political spending, as an opportunity to stir populist angst by reaching for his go-to Beltway bogeymen of the 2008 presidential campaign trail: K Street lobbyists.“It’s time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my administration or with Congress,” Obama said. “It’s time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office.”“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections,” Obama continued. “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.”While agreeing that bashing lobbyists is politically expedient, other Democrats say they, too, are reserving judgment on any new rules until they see details from the White House. The Senate Rules and Administration Committee is expected to have jurisdiction over the White House’s new lobbying proposals. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a key moderate on the panel, said Wednesday night that he does not anticipate supporting Obama’s new disclosure requirements for lobbyists and campaign contribution restrictions.“I have a very different point of view: Special interests are everywhere, and it’s just something you have to deal with,” Nelson said. “They don’t unduly influence me, but they’re always an easy target.”Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.), who is tasked with crafting a legislative response to the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, declined to indicate on Wednesday whether Obama’s new lobbying provisions would be included in his bill, which is expected within days.Although more disclosure requirement may well be in store, Van Hollen said Democratic leaders already tackled the most egregious lobbying loopholes in 2007’s Honest Leadership and Open Government Act.“We’re going to be taking a look at his proposals,” said Van Hollen, who is Assistant to the Speaker. “I think it’s important to recognize the changes that have taken place in terms of disclosure and bundling by lobbyists that have already happened.“What we’ve focused on is transparency and making sure all of that is overly reported,” Van Hollen added.Obama did have the backing of at least one Democratic Senator after his speech. Although he agreed that “more disclosure would help,” Sen. Bob Casey (Pa.) said he prefers if Democrats include all of the White House’s new lobbying restrictions.“I think it was great that he raised that issue, and some are long overdue,” Casey said. “I think we can do it this year.”

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