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Lobbyists Could See More Curbs Arising From Campaign Finance Movement

Jewel Samad/AFP/GettyImages
Represent.Us’ American Anti-Corruption Act received a thumbs-down from the American League of Lobbyists, partly because one of its advisers was Abramoff, above, the former lobbyist convicted after a corruption scandal that led to new ethics and lobbying restrictions.

Lobbyists already chafing under the Obama administration’s lobbying restrictions and congressional ethics rules could soon have a brand new headache: a nascent grass-roots movement that’s placed reining in lobbyists at its center.

Spearheaded by a coalition of campaign finance experts and activists called Represent.Us, the campaign is working to build grass-roots support for a measure that would drastically limit lobbyist fundraising, among other provisions. Dubbed the American Anti-Corruption Act, the plan would also curb unrestricted super PACs and make it harder for such groups to coordinate with candidates.

“It’s the boldest package of reform that we’ve seen maybe in a century that would change how Washington would work,” said Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Harvard Law School and founder of the anti-corruption group Rootstrikers. Lessig and other Represent.Us organizers say their goal is to build public pressure outside the Beltway before taking their plan to Capitol Hill.

“The view is that lobbyists should be requesting congressional action, but they should not then be fundraising, bundling and giving substantial sums to the people whose actions they are seeking,” said Trevor Potter, president and general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center and a key author of the proposal. The plan would ban members of Congress from raising funds from those who lobby them unless they recuse themselves from actions to benefit those donors.

In theory, K Street professionals might welcome a break from fundraising. The Represent.Us plan builds on a resolution approved by the American Bar Association last year that would impose a “cooling off” period on lobbyists making campaign donations, in addition to expanding lobbyist disclosure and registration rules. In June, the American League of Lobbyists also unanimously approved a package of changes aimed at expanding lobbying disclosure requirements.

But the Represent.Us plan received an instant thumbs-down from ALL, partly because one of the American Anti-Corruption Act’s key advisers was none other than Jack Abramoff, the former lobbyist convicted following the corruption scandal that led to sweeping new ethics and lobbying restrictions in 2007. Abramoff, who has since authored a book about his experience and set out to recast himself as an agent of change, remains anathema on K Street.

“I haven’t officially looked at it, but just knowing that Jack’s involved in it discounts it right from the very beginning,” incoming ALL President Monte Ward said. “A convicted felon who’s trying to pay off his debts is not somebody I would put a lot of credibility into.”

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