January 5, 2006

Lawmakers line up behind lobbying reform

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawmakers from both parties on
Thursday said the U.S. Congress must tighten lobbying rules as
a corruption scandal centered on Republican lobbyist Jack
Abramoff looked set to become a major election-year issue.

Measures being considered by members of the Senate and the
House of Representatives included greater disclosure of, and
limits on, financial contributions and restrictions on the
activities of lobbyists.

Earlier attempts to pass legislation that limited political
financing have always been controversial as politicians depend
on fund raising to fight their campaigns.

Wisconsin Rep. David Obey said a reform bill he was
proposing had won a majority of support among fellow Democrats
in the House of Representatives.

House Republican leaders have not embraced any specific
measure, but a leadership aide predicted that a bill would pass
before November's congressional elections.

"There will be some type of significant lobbying-reform
package. It just seems obvious," said the aide, who spoke on
condition of anonymity.

In the Senate, Republican leaders said they were working on
a bill of their own.

The flurry of activity at a time when Congress is out of
session reflected the huge impact of a corruption probe that so
far has implicated at least six Republican lawmakers, including
former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Abramoff earlier this week pleaded guilty to fraud charges
and admitted that he gave golf trips, sports tickets and other
gifts to lawmakers in return for special treatment.

Abramoff will help Justice Department prosecutors determine
whether DeLay, Ohio Republican Rep. Bob Ney and others traded
gifts for action that would benefit his lobbying clients. DeLay
and Ney say they did nothing illegal.


Democratic political groups have made the scandal a
prominent theme in their efforts to take back control of the
House and Senate. Republicans note that many Democrats also
took campaign contributions from Abramoff's clients.

So far, lawmakers from both parties have returned more than
$500,000 in contributions from Abramoff and his clients.

The Abramoff scandal could possibly have been avoided if
tougher lobbying laws had been in place, Connecticut Democratic
Sen. Joe Lieberman said.

"If Abramoff had been required to disclose everything he
was doing, he might have been indicted in the court of public
opinion before he was indicted by the Justice Department,"
Lieberman, the top Democrat on the committee that will handle
any reform legislation, told a news conference.

Lieberman said he would back a reform measure introduced
last month, as the scandal was brewing, by Arizona Republican
Sen. John McCain.

McCain's bill would require lobbyists to disclose gifts to
lawmakers worth more than $20, while lawmakers and their
staffers would have to pay full value for charter flights,
sports tickets and other outings.

Lawmakers and senior staffers would have to wait two years
after leaving Capitol Hill before they could lobby their former

Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold, sponsor of a
similar bill, has said he is willing to work with McCain.

McCain and Feingold succeeded in tightening
campaign-finance rules in 2002 after years of resistance from
many of their colleagues.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said a
reform bill that has the backing of Republican leaders was
being prepared by Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum.