A Publication of WTVP

With the beginning of February, members of the U.S. House will return to Washington to begin the second session of the 109th Congress. The president’s State of the Union January 31 will kick off the legislative session for the year, and there are many big issues to tackle before the House adjourns. One issue, though, has taken center stage on Capitol Hill: lobbying and ethics reform.

Over the past several months, we’ve seen Congressman Randy Cunningham of California convicted for taking bribes from contractors, and we’ve begun to see the fallout from the scandal surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay faces charges in his home state of Texas in an unrelated matter, but his name also has been mentioned in connection to Abramoff. Congressman Bob Ney of Ohio temporarily stepped down as chairman of the House Administration Committee due to the Abramoff investigation.

As the House convenes for the new session, House Republicans will be holding leadership elections for Majority Leader and possibly Majority Whip, as well as naming a new chairman to replace Ney. House Speaker Dennis Hastert also is working on a package of comprehensive lobbying and ethics reforms that should be acted on early in the new session. While we’re focusing on lobbying reform and electing—hopefully—new faces to our leadership team, we must also continue to advance a strong legislative agenda in 2006.

Just as our campaign finance laws were strengthened a few years ago, it’s all too apparent now that we not only need to tighten our lobbying and ethics laws, but that we must have tough penalties for those people who break the law—members, staffers, and lobbyists alike. When Republicans came to the majority in 1995, we passed some good ethics reforms. We must now expand on those reforms.

Our campaign finance laws were made even stronger under the McCain-Feingold bill a few years ago. The federal guidelines for contributions are very strict—a limit of $2,100 per person and $5,000 per political action committee during an election—and they must be reported on a regular and timely basis. There are felony penalties for those who break these laws, and all members are well aware of these laws. We must take that same mindset to lobbying and ethics reform.

There are several reform provisions being discussed, and I believe they’re all good ideas. Under current rules, former House members are able to have access to the floor during debate. Many times, those former members have become lobbyists. I believe this practice must stop. I also believe the current one-year moratorium on former members or staffers being able to lobby should be extended to two years or more. Another provision would eliminate any travel by members or staff paid for by private organizations. While lobbyists can’t pay for travel, other “educational” organizations can provide travel. Under this reform, all travel would be paid for by the taxpayers.

I’m sure there will be other reform provisions that will arise once the House convenes for the new session, and I’m confident we’ll pass serious reform early this year. Unfortunately, a few bad apples such as Abramoff and Cunningham have poisoned the well for everyone associated with Congress. I believe that almost all members of Congress, as well as those whose job it is to lobby members, are good, upstanding people who abide by the law. But because of those who’ve taken advantage of the system, we must pass reforms in an effort to discourage this behavior in the future. IBI