Lobby Reform Bill Readied
But GOP Questions Motives of Co-sponsor Emanuel
Democratic Reps. Marty Meehan (Mass.) and Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) are preparing to introduce a bill this week that would overhaul lobbying rules for the first time in a decade.
But the measure is being met with skepticism by a key House Republican, who is pointing to recent campaign finance allegations raised against Emanuel, and the fact that he is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
“It’s kind of ironic that Mr. Emanuel is the leader on ethics reform, given his experience and what has come to light in the last week or so,” said Chief Deputy Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), citing recent reports in Chicago newspapers that federal authorities are investigating whether municipal employees were directed to work on Emanuel’s campaigns, among others.
Emanuel, through a spokesman, has denied knowledge of the reported incidents and responding to Cantor’s comments Tuesday, his spokeswoman steered attention back to the bill.
“We haven’t seen a major piece of lobbying reform since 1995,” said Kathleen Connery. “It’s clear we need to update our rules, enforcement and oversight. This legislation … addresses the ethical cloud hanging over Congress.”
Instead of the bill, Cantor said he favored exploring reforms to lobbying rules through the House ethics committee.
“I think that we would be better served by allowing the issue to be taken up and considered in an orderly and official basis by the ethics committee, and by the official route we have, and not in the headlines, the way [Emanuel] seems to want to play it,” Cantor said.
Meanwhile, the Democrats’ lobbying reform bill, called the 2005 Lobbying and Ethics Reform Act, may have found an unlikely ally in House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio). Ney, who has endured scrutiny in recent months for his ties to embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff, likewise objected to Emanuel’s involvement in the measure — but he added it has much to like.
“There’s a lot of this I have absolutely no problem with,” he said.
Ney’s committee would have jurisdiction over the bill, but he said he has not yet set a timetable for considering it.
Despite supporting some provisions of the draft, Ney nevertheless criticized Emanuel’s involvement as being politically motivated.
“Dealing with Rahm Emanuel would be a joke,” he said. “I don’t consider him sincere, and I don’t think it would be taken seriously by anyone.”
He added that “just because Emanuel’s name is on there doesn’t preclude us from looking at it.”
A House Republican leadership aide seconded the criticism, pointing to Emanuel’s earnings as an investment banker after leaving the Clinton White House in 1999.
“It’s absolutely amazing that a guy who made $17 million in three years trading off the contacts he made as a government employee is acting like he has the credibility to sit in judgment on anyone,” the aide said.
Connery, Emanuel’s spokeswoman, brushed off the comments.
“This isn’t about what one individual says about another individual,” she said. “It’s about getting a bill through Congress.”
Matt Vogel, a spokesman for Meehan, said Tuesday the bill’s draft language has been finalized, and that Meehan will introduce it later this week.
The discussion of tighter lobbying restrictions comes as new details surface about possibly inappropriate relationships House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) had with some lobbyists and as cases of Members taking lobbyist-funded trips, in violation of House rules, continue to emerge.
Ney is among those Members defending past trips, after a 2002 jaunt to Scotland during which he played golf at the famed St. Andrews. In his defense, Ney has pointed to a confusing disclosure system that he said often leaves lawmakers in the dark about the actual sponsors of their travel.
In a Tuesday interview, he voiced support for the draft measure’s provisions aimed at revising the travel disclosure process.
“I think the section on trips is very thoughtful and I think I’ll have some things to add,” he said.
The measure would require trip sponsors to certify in writing that their travel complied with House or Senate rules; hike fines for violators; and tighten rules for Member expenses on trips and for disclosure afterwards.
Among its other provisions, the draft bill would force lobbyists to file reports electronically, detail contacts with Members, and disclose expenses for grass-roots lobbying.
In addition, former Members would have to wait two years, up from the current one, before being allowed to lobby Congress.
Ney said he would strengthen that provision by banning former Members, during that two-year period, from working for a firm that lobbies Congress.
“That way you can’t sit idle for two years in some firm and ‘not lobby,’ and then go out and lobby,” he said.
Meehan and Emanuel held an event last week to unveil the outlines of their plan even though the bill’s draft language had not yet been completed. Vogel said that process was tricky, because drafters had to reconcile language amending federal law with language changing House rules.
Spokesmen for the sponsors said they have been looking for House Republicans willing to sign on but wouldn’t wait for any commitments before introducing the bill.
On the Senate side, an aide to Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) said the Senator hopes to introduce legislation soon, possibly similar to the House bill, to reform lobbying rules.
Feingold worked with Meehan in 2001 to secure campaign finance reform legislation.
Ben Pershing contributed to this report.