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Bill to Curb Lobby Power Falls Victim to Filibuster

By Michael Ross
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

A bill to curb the influence of lobbyists was all but killed in the Senate Thursday, the victim of one of a half dozen filibusters Republicans have been using to delay or doom key Democratic initiatives in the waning hours of the 103rd Congress.

Although the Senate passed the legislation by an overwhelming majority earlier in the session, sponsors fell eight votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a GOP filibuster blocking final passage. The measure would tighten financial disclosure requirements for lobbyists and bar them from giving gifts or providing free travel and entertainment for lawmakers.

House and Senate members are continuing to discuss possibly making one final effort to salvage the bill, or at least a portion of it, with last-minute changes to the lobbying disclosure requirements that the Republicans opposed. Sensitive to allegations they are being almost blindly obstructionist at this point, Republicans offered to support just the gift ban if it were brought back as a separate bill without the other lobbying provisions.

But as the mood on the eve of adjournment turned progressively more partisan and bitter, angry Democrats were showing no inclination to give the Republicans political cover for what has clearly been a strategy aimed at blocking almost every major measure in the belief that voter discontent with Congress will work to their advantage in the Nov. 8 elections.

With Congress set to adjourn Friday, the chief House and Senate sponsors of the lobbying bill said there would not be enough time, in any case, to negotiate any significant changes and that the legislation was effectively dead.

"A Republican-led filibuster has apparently killed the best chance in 40 years to enact tough lobbying reform and gift ban law," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who sponsored the bill in the Senate.

"The Republicans have killed it," said Rep. John Bryant, D-Texas, Levin's counterpart in the House. "They have preserved their free meals and free tickets and free gold outings for another two years."

The vote was 52-to-46, as seven moderate Republicans sided with 45 Democrats to end the filibuster. They were opposed by 10 Democrats and the other 36 Republicans.

The lobbying bill, which would ban virtually all gifts from lobbyists and put an end to the much criticized junkets and charity sporting events in which many lawmakers participate, was one of three reform bills the Democrats hoped would bolster their standings in the polls this November by persuading voters that Congress was serious about restricting the influence of special interests.

The other two bills, which included measures to streamline the congressional bureaucracy and reform the way political campaigns are financed, also died in the Senate, largely because of Republican opposition.

Democrats charged that the Republicans were simply trying to keep anything on President Clinton's legislative agenda from passing Congress before November elections.

Republicans, however, said their objections had nothing to do with the gift ban, but to another provision which they feared might impose unfair restrictions on grass-roots lobbying efforts.

Alarmed by this interpretation of the disclosure requirements, major lobbying groups including the conservative Christian Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union, joined a campaign against the bill mounted last week by House Minority Whip Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia and other GOP leaders.

Echoing Gingrich's complaints, the lobbyists argued that the disclosure requirements could oblige grass roots groups that lobby Congress to disclose the names of their members and even require ordinary individuals who call to bend the ear of their representatives to register as lobbyists.

Levin, however, charged that those interpretations amounted to distortions and "deliberate disinformation" put out by Republicans to "scare people into opposing the bill." He said the registration requirements pertain only to paid professional lobbyists and that the only names they would have to disclose were those of the "person or persons who pay them to professionally lobby" Congress.