The Senate Judiciary Committee reached an impasse yesterday on legislation to restrict what one member called "the Deaver syndrome" after opponents charged that the anti-lobbying measure would prevent former U.S. officials from earning a living.
Chairman Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), who drafted the bill soon after the beginning of the investigation of former White House aide Michael K. Deaver and after an unrelated incident in which U.S. trade secrets were leaked, had already agreed to soften some key provisions.
But the compromise version of the legislation, which would restrict lobbying by former government officials, encountered stiff opposition from Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (R-Md.), who said the proposed ban on representing foreign governments was so broad that it would prevent former officials from buying Israeli bonds.
"In our zeal to solve what some people think is the Deaver syndrome, we may be hurting our government more than we care to imagine," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah). "This bill may very well ruin careers."
The bill has forged odd alliances, with Thurmond and liberal Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) in support and the Justice Department and American Civil Liberties Union in opposition. It has also underscored Congress' difficulty in dealing with the "revolving door" issue, especially since the measure would extend lobbying restrictions for the first time to former members of Congress -- an idea that the Justice Department, while opposing most of the bill, applauded.
Thurmond agreed to delay a vote until next Thursday and appointed a subcommittee to try to resolve objections raised by Mathias, who plans to offer numerous amendments.
In modifying his bill, Thurmond agreed to drop a lifetime ban on senior federal officials representing foreign interests after leaving government; he would reduce the prohibition to 10 years. The ban would last five years for members of Congress and two years for other federal employes.
A one-year ban on lobbying the government for domestic clients would apply to ex-officials at the GS-15 level or above and last two years for former members of Congress. Former federal employes at GS-11 to GS-14 levels would be barred from contacting their former agencies as lobbyists for one year.
Mathias said the bill "goes far beyond lobbying" and would outlaw even voluntary or charitable efforts abroad. "If a former member of my staff wrote me a letter and said you ought to vote for the Thurmond bill, they would be committing a crime," he said.
Mathias said the measure would deter talented people from government. To a solicitor general in his 50s, he said, the bill's message is that "you can't practice any kind of international law for the rest of your life."
But Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) said the government does not need people motivated by "greed." And Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) declared that "government is for sale" because of high-priced lobbyists peddling their accessibility. Simon warned against further delays, saying that "thanks to Mike Deaver . . . we have the opportunity to move fast" and pass the bill.