House Passes Lobby Reform and Bundling Bills by Large Margins

Posted May 24, 2007 at 5:21pm

Ending weeks of delay and overcoming stiff resistance from corners of their own party, House Democratic leaders on Thursday pushed through a sweeping lobbying reform package and a bundling disclosure requirement.

Both measures won wide bipartisan support, with lawmakers approving the bundling amendment 382-37 and passing the broader package 396-22, with Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.) voting “present.” Those margins mark a stark contrast to tense negotiations Democratic leaders held in recent days to avoid what appeared to be insurmountable opposition from a fraction of the Caucus, largely over the bundling measure.

The two measures will head to conference talks as a single package, thanks to a successful Republican motion to recommit.

House GOPers, who sparred with Democrats throughout the day for the high ground in the debate, won other key changes to the bill adopted with their gambit.

They closed a loophole in House ethics rules that exempts lobbyists for public sector interests, such as state and local governments and public universities, from a gift ban Democrats imposed at the beginning of the year. And the measure cracks down on the phenomenon known as the reverse revolving door, banning lobbyists who take jobs on Capitol Hill from giving their former employers preferential treatment.

They also require lobbyists to report on quarterly filings of any earmarks they are seeking.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) called the overhaul package “part and parcel” of redeeming Democrats’ campaign trail pledge to institute ethics reforms.

“This bill sends the right message,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). “It says we’re serious about changing the way we do business.”

Before adopting the bundling requirement, lawmakers narrowly agreed to add a Republican-authored change that expands its scope to cover contributions lobbyists arrange for outside political action committees, such as those for EMILY’s List and the National Rifle Association.

Van Hollen, who wrote the bundling bill, said the change missed the point of his measure, which is aimed at shining light on what fundraising activities lobbyists conduct for Members to gain influence with them. Lobbyists, he said, don’t often bundle checks for outside organizations to curry favor. “It was a total diversion, but it was a harmless diversion,” he said.

Left unaddressed were stricter rules for Congressional officials who leave the Hill for lobbying jobs.

The House did not match Senate-passed changes that double to two years a cooling-off period for those officials and expand its scope from direct lobbying contacts to include backroom strategizing as well.

House Democratic leaders stripped out a two-year lobbying ban to win concessions for the rest of the package. But they pointed to revolving-door provisions still in the bill — requirements that lawmakers disclose to the ethics committee any negotiations they hold for outside jobs and then recuse themselves from action on any legislation impacting the potential employers.

“The bill was not perfect in the minds of many,” Hoyer said, responding to critiques of the revolving-door provisions.

Leaders described the measure as the second step — after overhauling House ethics rules at the beginning of the year — toward fulfilling their reform promise. They said the third and final installment will come next month, when they tackle changes to the ethics enforcement process. A bipartisan task force meeting to examine the issue was due to deliver its findings this week. Its chairman, Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.), said the group is nearing consensus.

The groundwork for Thursday’s success was laid in the morning, when leaders cleared the major obstacle threatening progress on the reforms: the rule governing debate.

Lawmakers voted 224-197, largely along party lines, to approve the rule.

“In the end, the vote on the rule was strong – stronger than I thought it would be,” said Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), a leading reform advocate in the Democratic caucus.

The bundling measure, authored by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), drew sharp objections from a number of House Democrats, most notably those in the black and Hispanic caucuses and the Blue Dog Coalition.

Leaders originally planned to add the item as an amendment to the larger package, but facing the specter that rank-and-file Democratic opposition could sink the rule, they decided to stage a vote on the Van Hollen measure as a stand-alone bill.

No matter, said reform advocates on and off Capitol Hill: the bundling requirement likely will be added to the package in conference negotiations. A Senate-passed bill includes a more broadly drawn version of the requirement.

Republicans held together opposing the rule, which they complained was too restrictive and violated the spirit of a measure meant to bring transparency to the legislative process. Only one Democrat, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), joined Republicans in opposition. Her spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

GOP leaders did not whip their members to oppose final passage.

Lawmakers defeated an amendment from Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) that would have banned military officers from working for companies with significant federal contracts for a year after ending their service.

Several other changes were adopted on voice votes.

An amendment from Rules ranking member David Dreier (R-Calif.) would direct the Clerk of the House to notify former Congressional officials entering the lobbying business at the beginning and end of their one-year cooling-off period.

Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) proposed giving judges the ability to add up to two years to sentences for public officials convicted of corruption charges. And an amendment from Republican Reps. Mike Castle (Del.) and Todd Platts (Pa.) would express the sense of Congress that it is inappropriate for lobbyists related to lawmakers to leverage those ties to influence Members of Congress.