By William Branigin and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 3, 2007 12:20 PM
Congressional Democrats pledged today to "take America in a new direction" following Senate passage of a landmark bill that would tighten ethics and lobbying rules, forcing lawmakers to more fully detail how their campaigns are funded and how they direct government spending.
The bill, approved by the House on Tuesday, passed the Senate yesterday by a vote of 83 to 14. It now goes to President Bush for signature.
The ethics bill is tough on lobbyists but weaker on one of Bush's stated priorities: exposing pork-barrel spending. It would, for the first time, require lawmakers to disclose small campaign contributions that are "bundled" into large packages by lobbyists. It would require lobbyists to detail their own campaign contributions, as well as payments to presidential libraries, inaugural committees and charities controlled by lawmakers. The proposal would also put new disclosure requirements on special spending measures for pet projects, known as "earmarks."
In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) called the bill "the most sweeping ethics and lobbying reform in history" and said it would give Americans "a government as good and honest as the people it represents."
He said, "This bill will significantly reform the way business gets done in Washington. It prohibits gifts and travel from lobbyists and companies that hire lobbyists, puts an end to pay-to-play schemes like the Republican K Street Project, dramatically increases public disclosure of the activities of lobbyists, slows the revolving door between Congress and the lobbying world, requires transparency in the earmark process, and increases penalties for corrupt politicians and lobbyists."
Americans "are sick and tired of the corruption that has plagued this city for the past six years," Reid said, "and we look forward to the president enacting this sorely needed reform."
Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) hailed inclusion in the bill of a provision he introduced to cancel taxpayer-funded pension benefits to lawmakers convicted of serious ethics offenses, such as bribery or conspiracy. He dubbed the provision the "Duke Cunningham Act," a reference to former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.), who is currently serving a prison sentence after pleading guilty to federal bribery and other charges.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) described House passage of the bill as "momentous" and "historic." It was approved overwhelmingly in the House by a vote of 411 to 8.
Reid and Pelosi said today that by sending the bill to Bush, along with legislation to implement recommendations of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Democrats were leading the nation in a new direction.
Bush signed the "Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007" into law this morning, saying it "builds upon the considerable progress we have made in strengthening our defenses and protecting Americans" since the Sept. 11 attacks. The White House made no immediate mention of his plans regarding the ethics bill.
That bill represents the most far-reaching attempt at ethics reform since Watergate, although it is not as aggressive as some legislators wanted in restricting the use of earmarks and in requiring the disclosure of donation bundling. The legislation, which had been stalled until negotiators worked out a deal in recent days to get it passed before the August recess, is a priority for Democrats, who won control of Congress in part because they had decried what they called "a culture of corruption" under Republicans.
The legislation would end secret "holds" in the Senate, which allow a single senator to block action without disclosing that he or she has done so. Members of Congress would no longer be allowed to attend lavish parties thrown in their honor at political conventions. Gifts, meals and travel funded by lobbyists would be banned, and travel on corporate jets would be restricted. Lobbyists would have to disclose their activities more often and on the Internet. And lawmakers convicted of bribery, perjury and other crimes would be denied their congressional pensions.