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GOP Leaders Propose Overhaul Of Rules on Lobbying Activities

By Carl Hulse


House Republican leaders on Tuesday laid out a proposal to rewrite House rules governing lobbying as they moved to contain the political damage from an election-year scandal over undue influence and access afforded to lobbyists.

In the first of a series of competing packages of legislation, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert called for a ban on congressional travel underwritten by outside groups, tougher restrictions on gifts and favors and the elimination of privileges for lawmakers-turned-lobbyists in response to three bribery and corruption convictions that have reached into the House. Inquiries related to those criminal acts are ongoing.

Congressional Democrats plan to issue their own overhaul plan Wednesday and Senate Republicans are preparing one as well in a game of one-upsmanship touched off by guilty pleas to corruption charges by high-powered lobbyist Jack Abramoff and an associate and a House Republican’s admission to taking bribes.

The House and Senate are responsible for setting the rules that apply to each chamber but in the past have enacted these types of reforms through a combination or rules changes and legislation to give them the force of law.

Though the plans differ, all take aim at the opportunities available to lobbyists to provide lawmakers with benefits such as luxury travel, expensive meals, scarce tickets to entertainment events, fund-raising help, contributions to pet causes and other little-scrutinized forms of financial and political support.

“I think members can probably function very well in this town without having to go out to lunch with a lobbyist or to dinner with a lobbyist,” said Hastert. “They can pay for it for themselves.”

Democrats plan to push ahead with their own proposals, saying they are skeptical the Republicans who control the House and Senate will be able to clean up a system they have presided over. “It is like asking John Gotti to do what he can to clean up organized crime,” said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader.

Like the other plans, the overhaul by Congressional Democrats would double to two years the time before a former lawmaker or senior aide could lobby Congress. Congressional Democrats would institute new quarterly lobbying reports with extensive new requirements for disclosure.