McCain pursues lobbying reform

Gale Courey Toensing
12/28/05

WASHINGTON -- Spurred by a wide-ranging lobbying scandal that scammed
millions of dollars from Indian tribes and may involve dozens of public
officials, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has introduced legislation aimed at
reforming federal influence peddling.

In a statement on the Senate floor Dec. 16, McCain said the bill's intent
is "to provide greater transparency into the process of influencing our
Government and ensure greater accountability among public officials."

The bill follows an 18-month investigation by the Senate Indian Affairs
Committee into the activities of former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his
associates -- activities McCain described as an "exploitation of Native
Americans." McCain chairs the committee.

Abramoff is accused of bilking six tribes out of more than $82 million over
the course of three years, and currying favor with public officials to make
decisions favorable to his tribal clients.

The bill, McCain said, "is regrettably necessary."

The investigation spanned the country and uncovered "extraordinary" stories
of "excess and abuse" in the "exploitation" of a few Indian tribes, McCain
said. The ongoing investigation involves a number of public officials who
were lavished with tickets to sports events, extravagant getaways to
tropical islands and famous golf courses, treated to meals and drinks, and
provided with fund-raisers and contributions, McCain said.

Under the bill -- Senate Bill 2128 -- lobbyists, lobbying firms, and their
political action committees have to disclose more information about their
activities more quickly, providing greater and faster public access to
information.

For the first time, grass-roots organizations will be required to disclose
their financial interests. The Abramoff investigation uncovered
"unscrupulous tactics" in which millions of dollars were funneled through
to "misleading front groups: and used to lobby Congress and shape public
opinion," McCain said.

The groups included Americans for a Republican Majority, the Council of
Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, and former Christian Coalition
leader Ralph Reed's organization.

In an effort to throw light on the anonymous groups seeking to influence
government, the bill requires registered lobbyists to list as clients all
groups, coalitions or associations that contribute $10,000 or more.

The bill requires disclosure of fund-raisers and other events hosted,
co-hosted or otherwise sponsored by lobbyists, their firms and PACs. In
addition to reports from members and employees of Congress, lobbyists now
will be required to report gifts valued at more than $20.

Members of Congress and their staff would have to pay the "fair market
value" for airline tickets and sports and entertainment events. The bill
increases the penalty for violation and tightens provisions for enforcement
and oversight.

S. 2128 includes a provision that McCain said addresses the problem of the
"revolving door between Government and the private sector."

The bill extends a "cooling-off" time for Congress members, who will now
have to wait two years instead of one after leaving Congress before
lobbying their former colleagues.

Ex-government employees who go to work for a tribe will now have to wait
one year before lobbying their former colleagues. The provision will "close
a loophole" in federal conflict of interest laws for those who represent
Indian tribes, McCain said.

The bill, however, does not address cases in which ex-government employees
go to work for towns, states, lobbyists or PACs that oppose Indian casinos
or tribal recognition.

The cooling-off period was included in an earlier bill, S. 1312, that was
introduced in June by McCain and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

On Dec. 16, McCain was joined by Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Sen. Dick
Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., who are co-sponsors of
S. 2128.

According to a Republican Senate Web site, however, the three Democrat
senators collectively have received more than $45,000 in contributions from
Abramoff:

The site -- www.gopsenators.com -- said Lieberman received at least
$29,830; Durbin, at least $14,000; and Feingold, at least $1,250.

The senators could not be reached for comment by press time.

The Web site is the home of the National Republican Senatorial Committee,
which describes itself as "a 'political committee' established by
Republican Members of the United States Senate to help Republican
candidates develop the campaign resources they need for 2006 so we can
maintain and grow our majority in the United States Senate."

The Senate approved the lobbyist provision unanimously, and the bill was
sent to the Resources and Judiciary committees for further action.

McCain noted that congressional approval ratings have dropped recently to
26 percent due in part to "a deep perception that we do not act on the
priorities of the American people, that special interests set our agenda
here rather than the people's interest."

"I hope we can, over the recess, think about this issue and be prepared to
address it as early as possible. We have a long way to go to restore
accountability, transparency and the confidence of the American people,"
McCain said.

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