2nd Panel Tackles Lobbyist Disclosure
Senate Bill Creates Hill Office of Public Integrity to Enforce Openness

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 2, 2006

A Senate committee will meet today to draft legislation that would increase the amount of information that lobbyists must provide the government about their contacts with senators and establish a new enforcement regimen for those disclosures.

The meeting will mark the second effort in the Senate this week to cobble together a bill that would serve as a response to a series of political corruption scandals. The House has yet to decide how to proceed with lobbying legislation.

The Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is scheduled to use as its starting point today a measure drafted by its chairman, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), and its senior Democrat, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.).

The plan would require lobbyists to file quarterly rather than the current biannual reports about their activities as well as a new, once-a-year disclosure that would detail their donations to federal candidates, officeholders and political parties.

The measure would also expand the types of lobbying groups that must report to include large coalitions, which now operate mostly under the radar but are major vehicles for lobbying in Washington.

The bill would not impose any additional bans on gifts, meals or travel, as had been discussed by congressional leaders at the beginning of the year.

It would double to two years the time lawmakers and senior executive branch officials would be prohibited from lobbying their former colleagues after they leave government service.

It also would mandate much more extensive use of the Internet in filing the new and additional disclosures.

A major portion of the proposal deals with establishing an Office of Public Integrity in Congress to oversee and enforce the lobbyists' disclosures. The office would investigate alleged ethical violations, audit lobbyists' reports, and refer cases of possible violations to congressional ethics committees as well as federal and state authorities.

Several government watchdog groups, including Common Cause and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, yesterday urged the creation of the office and warned in a statement that "there may be an effort to strike this important reform component."

On Tuesday, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee voted unanimously to increase the amount of information senators must disclose to the public about their contacts with lobbyists and to make it more difficult for senators to sneak into legislation narrowly focused expenditures called earmarks.

The panel also approved legislation to ban lobbyist gifts to senators other than meals and to require that meals accepted by senators and their aides be reported online within 15 days.

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