CHN: Whatever Happened to Lobby Reform?

In the aftermath of ethics scandals surrounding relationships with lobbyist Jack Abramoff that resulted in indictments, resignations, guilty pleas and returned money, Congress vowed to take comprehensive and swift action.  That was months ago.  Since then the promises have been forgotten and rhetorical fervor has diminished to a whimper. Rather than passing legislation that addresses the core problem of giving money in exchange for gifts and legislative favors, the House has passed lobby reform ‘ultra lite.’
On September 14, the House voted 245-171 in favor of H. Res. 1000, legislation requiring that the names of House members who sponsor earmarks for spending and very narrowly defined tax breaks be made public.  Earmarking is the practice by Members of Congress of requesting funding for special projects for their state or district or for special interest tax breaks, outside of the formula distribution or the normal competitive bidding and grant-making processes built into programs.  Proponents of the legislation contend that it is aimed at curbing what many consider a costly and abusive practice.  However, the legislation creates a narrowly defined rule that applies only to the House and only for the remainder of this year; it does not apply to legislation that authorizes programs; and it affects only tax breaks that involve one entity (such as a corporation or individual).  Since all but one of the FY 2007 appropriations spending bills has already passed the House, this provision will apply only to the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education spending bill and to special projects members might add to the House and Senate conference reports on the 11 spending bills.

H. Res.1000 falls well short of the kind of lobby reform that would result in greater transparency and accountability in the legislative process.  This minimalist attempt at reform will do little to curb abusive lobbying practices or stop eroding the confidence and trust of those outside of Washington in the legislative process.  Many members, dissatisfied with the scope of the legislation and the fact that it targets appropriations spending but not authorization nor most tax legislation, may not have voted for passage but are in tight races and do not want to be characterized as anti-reform.

The Senate is also considering whether to schedule a debate on earmark legislation within the next two weeks.

For more analysis of the earmark legislation see the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report:

Budget and Appropriations
Policy Analyses and Research