House Conservatives Abandon Ethics Reform, End Debate on Bill With No Vote

Earlier this week, the Washington Post described the conservative-backed lobbying reform bill that was moving through the House:

If the Senate-passed measure was a disappointment, the House version is simply a joke — or, more accurately, a ruse aimed at convincing what the leaders must believe is a doltish public that the House has done something to clean up Washington.

Today, unexpectedly, House leaders “abruptly called off” debate over the bill. Their reasoning: it was too strong. (They claim it’s okay because the public doesn’t actually mind corruption.) A look at just how strong is too strong for conservatives on ethics reform:

Weak Earmark Reform: The bill would “require appropriations bills to identify the lawmakers responsible for each spending earmark.” Appropriations chairman Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) called out conservatives on their half-hearted reform package, saying it should be broadened to include earmarks in tax and authorization bills as well. This was too strong for the House leadership — a large reason debate was cut off today.

No Restrictions on Lavish Gifts: The bill would “leave the current gift limits unchanged.” Additionally, the House Administration committee rejected an amendment that would have made it illegal for lawmakers and their staffs to knowingly accept gifts from lobbyists or agents of foreign governments.

No Ban on Free Exotic Trips: The bill would not permanently ban privately-funded trips for lawmakers, but would suspend them until Dec. 15, at which point the temporary suspension could be lifted without any direct vote occurring.

No Increase in Lobbyist Transparency: The bill “so narrowly defines what qualifies as a fundraising event for a member of Congress that it will be easy to design campaign fundraisers that do not meet the definition, and therefore will not have to be disclosed.” Under this bill, lobbyists could continue to pay $25,000 or $50,000 for a fundraiser, with no oversight.

No Ethics Training for Members: The bill calls for mandatory ethics training for all congressional staff, but not for members.

No Revolving Door Slow-Down: A companion piece of legislation to the lobbying bill would require administration officials to wait at least two years after they leave office before becoming lobbyists. But there is no legislation to create a similar two-year waiting period for lawmakers, even though nearly 50 percent of lawmakers go on to lucrative lobbying jobs, often lobbying their former colleagues.

No Grassroots Lobbying Regulation: There are currently no disclosure rules “for professional lobbying firms that are retained to spend money on campaigns aimed at stimulating the public to lobby Congress, including multimillion dollar advertising campaigns.” Rep. Marty Meehan (D-MA) offered an amendment to include disclosure of grassroots lobbying expenditures, but the House conservative leadership ruled the amendment “non-germane,” and it was not even considered.

No Enforcement of Existing Rules: The bill “includes no mechanism for enforcing and monitoring old and new rules.” The House Administration Committee rejected an amendment “that would have established an Office of Public Integrity (OPI) within the House of Representatives Inspector General’s office to conduct audits and investigations of all filings made by lobbyists.”

UPDATE: At the last minute, the House bill narrowly survived in a 216-207 vote to continue debate. The House leadership promised “to extend the earmark provisions to all committees when the House and Senate negotiate a final version of the bill.” The bill will be up for a vote on Tuesday.