Lobby reform may have to wait

Hillary Wicai Sep 14, 2006

BOB MOON: Late this afternoon the House of Representatives began dealing with all of the lobbying reform it seems we may get out of Congress this year. The House resolution would change the rules for lawmakers and make them sign their names to SOME of the pet projects they tack onto spending and tax bills. Those pet projects are called earmarks. Some call them pork. But what happened to all the tough reform talk prompted by all those ethics scandals at the beginning of the year? Marketplace’s Hillary Wicai has the story.

HILLARY WICAI: The guilty pleas of Jack Abramoff and former Rep. Randy Duke Cunningham had a common element: Lobbyists slipping lawmakers money in return for earmarks. On the floor of the House today, California Congressman David Dreier said the spirit behind the earmark rule change is simple.

DAVID DREIER:“We are blowing away the fog of anonymity so the public can have a clear picture of what the projects are, what they cost and who’s sponsoring them.”

But in his remark, even Dreier admitted lawmakers haven’t reached the goal line. The lobbying reform bill that the House passed earlier dropped many of the GOP’s initial big promises. Chellie Pingree with the advocacy group Common Cause says it’s embarrassing.

CHELLIE PINGREE:“Earmarks was the miniscule part of the entire proposal of lobbying reform. It doesn’t restrict lobbyists giving to campaigns. It doesn’t restrict private travel or travel by members of Congress on corporate jets. It doesn’t create any independent ethics commission to actually watchdog and enforce the rules.”

And even though it was just earmarks, Republican House appropriators raised major red flags over today’s resolution. Saying it wouldn’t apply equally to all earmarks. Reform advocate Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 says lobbying reform will likely be up to the next Congress.

FRED WERTHEIMER:“This issue is not going to go away. There will be a major battle in the next Congress to do something real about the Congressional corruption scandals.”

The House’s lobbying reform bill is also very different than the one the Senate passed. And it doesn’t seem likely the disparities will be ironed out before lawmakers leave for November elections.

In Washington, I’m Hillary Wicai for Marketplace.

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