Senate Passes Token Lobbying Reform

The Senate passed, 90-8, reforms on lobbying that John McCain has dubbed “weak” and Jeff Birnbaum believes “largely avoided curtailing the behavior of lawmakers.”

Sheryl Stolberg outlines the basic details:

The bill would require lobbyists to file more public reports about their activities in a searchable Internet database, would demand that lawmakers receive advance approval for trips paid with private money and would bar former lawmakers and senior aides from lobbying Congress for two years.


The measure would not ban private travel, as some members have urged. Nor would it rein in lawmakers’ ability to fly on corporate jets at heavily discounted rates, a practice that gives precious access to lobbyists, who often go along for the trip. The measure would not do away with earmarks, though it would make it more difficult for lawmakers to insert the pet projects quietly into bills at lobbyists’ behest. And the Senate overwhelmingly rejected, 30 to 67, a move to create an independent ethics office to investigate accusations of abuse.

Birnbaum adds,

Lobbying reports would have to be filed electronically, including those filed by lobbyists for foreign entities, and would need to be accessible via the Internet, something that is not always possible today. In addition, the bill would mandate that senators get approval in advance from the Senate Select Committee on Ethics for any privately financed travel that they accept, but would not limit such travel otherwise. The trips and their major details would have to be disclosed rapidly, including the names of other passengers on private aircraft.

The Senate’s bill would slow what has been called the revolving door between government and the K Street lobbying industry. The legislation would double to two years the time during which former lawmakers and former top executive branch officials would be prohibited from lobbying their ex-colleagues. It would also ban — for a year after leaving their Capitol Hill jobs — former senior congressional staffers from lobbying anyone in the chamber in which they had worked. Currently, staff members are prohibited from lobbying only their former offices during their one-year “cooling-off period.”

While only eight Senators voted against the measure, they included most of those with 2008 presidential aspirations:

Some of the most highly visible advocates of overhauling laws on lobbying disagreed. Senators McCain and Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, who joined forces in the lobbying debate and then had a public dispute over it, were among those voting against the bill, as was Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin. Mr. McCain predicted that there would be more indictments in the Abramoff case, and added, “I think we will be revisiting this issue.”

Another senator who voted against the bill, Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, said his colleagues would suffer at the polls for failing to cut back on lobbyists’ influence by eliminating the earmarks. “You can wash the outside of the cup all you want,” Mr. Coburn said. “If the inside is still unclean, you’re going to have the same problems.”

The other senators who voted against the bill were John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts; and three Republicans, James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Senators Robert C. Byrd and John D. Rockefeller IV, both Democrats of West Virginia, did not vote.

The bill does little to break the link between lobbyists and lawmakers’ money-raising machines, because senators decided that those issues related to campaign finance, not lobbying. As a result, the bill steers clear of regulating the fund-raising activities of lobbyists, some of whom help run political action committees of the same lawmakers they hope to influence. In that respect, Mr. Dodd said, the bill does not address “true meaningful campaign finance reform that breaks the link between the legislative favor seekers and the free flow of special interest private money.”

Interestingly, Hillary Clinton voted for the measure.

Mark Tapscott
notes that a “potentially landmark” measure sponsored by Coburn and Obama failed. He provides a blow-by-blow account of how it went down.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Herb says:

    I have a better solution to Lobby Reform:

    Eliminate Lobbying totally

    But, those spineless, gutless wonders on the take in the House and Senate will not even think of such a thing.

  2. James Joyner says:


    There is this little thing called the 1st Amendment which guarantees the right of the people to petition their government for redress of grievances…

  3. Herb says:


    I don’t think the Founding Fathers” had the vast under the table payoffs in mind when they said in the 1st amendment that everyone has the right to “Petition” the government. And, when did a “redress of Grievances mean a big, lavish payoff.

    If you think that to “petition” gives the right to “Payoff a Congressman or Senator” is OK, then you would be a big disappointment to me.

    I have always thought of you as one who is “above reproach” in such matters.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Herb: Bribery is already illegal. “Lobbying” is nothing more than presenting one’s case to a Member or his staff. Groups organizing to try to effect legislation is not, in and of itself, problematic. Remember, it’s “good” groups doing it, too.

    What Abramoff and company did was already illegal.

    I have no problem with tightening up ethical rules, but mostly on the side of the Members themselves.