In the wake of recent scandals, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are hurrying to draft legislation to crack down on activities by lobbyists—and legislators. Senate and House Republican leaders on Jan. 17 announced outlines of their plans. They include more disclosure by lobbyists and grassroots organizations; restricting lawmakers’ lobbyist-funded travel; tougher limits on gifts; and expanding the moratorium on lawmakers-turned-lobbyists from contacting former colleagues. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and some others also want to put clamps on “earmarks”—many of which are for construction—inserted in spending bills. That could be a tougher sell, particularly to veteran Appropriations Committee members.
GOP leaders want to move rapidly. House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) aims to have his panel vote Feb. 1 to bar former House members from the chamber floor. He says floor action on other lobbying restrictions could come in March. “Politically, the House and Senate need to do something,” says Steve Hall, vice president of government affairs for the American Council of Engineering Companies. “They know they have a problem and they need to react quickly.”
Election-year partisanship may affect the pace. Brian Crawford, Associated Builders & Contractors’ senior director for legislative affairs, says Democrats would prefer to see lobbying bills “drag on to make it a campaign issue in 2006. Republicans [would] like to see it done sooner rather than later.”
“I don’t see how they cannot address lobbying reform as [lobbyist Jack] Abramoff’s information continues to unfold,” says Jeffrey D. Shoaf, senior executive director for government and public affairs for the Associated General Contractors. He thinks that for associations, changes in lobbying regulations could result in making member firms’ executives “a more integral part of all the lobbying campaigns.”
McCain, who introduced a lobbying bill in December, says adding restrictions for lobbyists “is addressing symptoms” of the main problem, which he contends is earmarking. “My policy preference would be to ban all earmarking,” he says. At a minimum, he wants to halt having items that were not in earlier versions of legislation suddenly appear in final bills.
Hall says what may emerge is controlling the number of specified projects “in terms of relevance to the bill that is carrying the earmarks.”
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