Lobbying reform stalled

Eric Niiler Jun 20, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: David Safavian is America’s latest political felon. The former White House aide was convicted today. Four counts of covering up his dealings with Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Abramoff, you might remember, started the ball rolling on lobbying reform in Congress. He’s the guy who helped cost former majority leader Tom Delay his job. After Abramoff confessed, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle promised they would clean up their acts. But, Eric Niiler reports from Washington, Congress still can’t decide how to police itself.

ERIC NIILER: Safavian was accused of lying about a fancy Scottish golf trip and about his efforts to help Abramoff buy some government real estate. Prosecutors proved their case with e-mails and testimony from a former congressional aide to Ohio Republican Bob Ney. So what’s next? Defense attorney Stan Brand says that Congressman Ney himself could be in jeopardy.

STAN BRAND: “Now that Mr. Safavian was convicted on the strength of a former Ney aide, namely Neil Volz, I think that the congressman unfortunately is even closer to that point than he was prior to this trial.”

Ney is under scrutiny because of favors he allegedly performed on behalf of Abramoff and his clients. Like introducing legislation and calling government officials in return for gifts and campaign cash. Ney spokesman Brian Walsh said today’s verdict has nothing to do with his boss.

BRIAN WALSH:“The congressman reiterates he’s never engaged in any improper, unethical or illegal activity. And he’s confident that the lies and deceptions of Jack Abramoff will be exposed. And that he will be vindicated when all the facts are presented.”

Several other members of congress are also under investigation. Meanwhile, lobbying reform legislation has stalled. The House and Senate both passed bills earlier this year. They would require more disclosure by lobbyists, but do not stiffen penalties for members of Congress. Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsible Ethics in Washington says an independent ethics panel is needed.

MELANIE SLOAN:“Perhaps after you see another congressman indicted, maybe that’s when they’ll start having a greater interest in reform.”

House and Senate negotiators still have not met to discuss the reform proposals. That may not even happen before the November elections.

In Washington, I’m Eric Niiler for Marketplace.

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