Jan. 8, 2007 – Government watchdogs applauded new congressional rules restricting gifts from lobbyists as a good first step, but called for independent oversight and further limits on influence peddling.
The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed new ethics-reform legislation Thursday, banning members and their staffs from accepting, in most cases, gifts or meals from registered lobbyists or the organizations that employ them. The legislation also restricts travel paid for by lobbies.
Critics who have been clamoring for ethics reform on Capitol Hill said the new rules were a promising development. The Senate, however, has not yet passed similar restrictions, and proposals in that chamber do not go as far as those passed by the House.
Melanie Sloan, executive director of the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) said in a press statement that the House bill "provides a path to a better, more accountable House of Representatives." But, she cautioned, "enforcement is the key to ethics reform."
CREW and several other interest groups like Public Citizen and Common Cause have been calling for an independent Office of Public Integrity.
"No matter how well the new ethics rules are written," said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook in a press statement, "they mean little if no one is assuring compliance. It is imperative that an independent Office of Public Integrity be established to monitor compliance with lobbying and ethics rules, independently investigate potential violations and make recommendations to congressional ethics committees for further action."
Critics of the influence corporations wield in Washington also noted that the House bill does not close a wide avenue through which money makes its way to lawmakers. Lobbyists are still permitted to raise money and donate it to political campaigns.
"It sends a very mixed message to be on one hand saying that they're clamping down on lobbyists but then raising money from those very same lobbyists that they say are part of the problem," David Donnelly of the Public Action Campaign Fund, told NBC Nightly News.
According to the broadcast, Democrats on Thursday hosted a $1,000-a-person fundraiser in Washington attended by about 200 lobbyists.