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Reform the System

As lobbyists have become an ever more powerful force in Washington, D.C., the need to increase disclosure, decrease special privileges and deter abusive behavior has grown. Bankrolled by the nation’s most powerful special interests, lobbyists are often in league with the politicians they court – sweetening the pot by dangling campaign contributions, free trips and even the prospect of future employment.

Three sets of reforms are urgently needed to clean up the influence-peddling business in Washington.

1.   Improve disclosure so the public knows what is going on. 

The lobbying disclosure law that requires “hired guns” to report on their activities is, to say the least, out of date and needs to be brought into the Internet age. Lobbyists file sketchy paper reports only twice a year, so a bill can be passed long before anyone finds out what special interests did to pass it. Because there is no comprehensive electronic disclosure system, it can take weeks to comb through disclosure forms to determine how many lobbyists an industry employs or how much it spent in a reporting period. Hundreds of millions of dollars in TV ads and other grassroots lobbying efforts are exempt from disclosure. Shadowy coalitions with Orwellian sounding names are allowed to lobby while keeping the identities of their members secret.

2.   Slow down the revolving door.

The revolving door is spinning out of control, legions of policy makers and their staffs are exiting public service one day only to setup lobbying shops the next. To slow it down, we need a two-year cooling off period during which lobbying is prohibited. Former members of Congress who turn to lobbying should be stripped of perks and privileges that give them special access to their colleagues. And, public officials should have to declare that they are playing both sides of the fence when they serve in government while negotiating lucrative private sector employment that poses a conflict of interest.

3.   Limit the influence of lobbyists.

Lobbyists are growing ever more powerful through mutually reinforcing relationships with politicians who depend on them for large amounts of campaign cash and coordination of political strategies. Brakes on the system are needed. We should start by prohibiting private groups – many influenced, if not controlled, by lobbyists – from paying for travel by federal employees, including members of Congress. We need an airtight “no-cup-of-coffee” gift ban that prevents lobbyists from abusing the system. And influence peddlers should be prohibited from providing or soliciting campaign contributions for elected officials. 


Public Citizen’s Reform Proposals

Summary of Proposed Reforms Regarding the Disclosure and Regulation of Federal Lobbying

 Proposed Reforms Regarding the Disclosure and Regulation of Federal Lobbying
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Legislative Proposals

NEW: Public Citizen's Summary of Electronic Reporting Directives for Disclosure of Lobbying, Travel and Honoraria in the U.S. House of Representatives  [PDF] October, 2005

Rep. Bob Ney's 'Dear Colleague' Letter Regarding Electronic Reporting Directives [PDF] June 29, 2005

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Special Interest Lobbying and Ethics Accountability Act of 2005 (H.R. 2412), sponsored by Reps. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) and Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.)

A bill to provide rigorous disclosure requirements and standards of conduct for lobbying, including former government officials from contacting their former colleagues for two years after leaving public service.

• Public Citizen's Summary of H.R. 2412 [PDF] October, 2005
 Text of H.R. 2412 [PDF]
• Public Citizen's Comparison of H.R. 2412, S.1398 and H.R. 3177 [PDF]

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Lobbying and Ethics Reform Act of 2005 (S. 1398) sponored by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.)

A bill to provide more rigorous disclosure requirements and standards of conduct for lobbying, including prohibiting lobbying activity by former government officials for two years after leaving public service.

• Public Citizen's Summary of S. 1398 [PDF] October, 2005
Text of S. 1398 [PDF]
• Public Citizen's Comparison of H.R. 2412, S.1398 and H.R. 3177 [PDF]

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Lobbying Gift Ban Act of 2005 (H.R. 3177) sponsored by Rep. George Miller (D-Cal.)

A bill to prohibit registered lobbyist from making gifts to Members of Congress and their staff.

• Public Citizen's Summary of H.R. 3177 [PDF] October, 2005
Text of H.R. 3177 [PDF]
• Public Citizen's Comparison of H.R. 2412, S.1398 and H.R. 3177 [PDF]

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