Friday, February 03, 2006

Congresswoman Schmidt: Time to Reform Lobbying

From a recent Press Release:
Washington, D.C. - Lobbying actually began in Clermont County. Not exactly the act of trying to persuade policymakers, but the term itself. Clermont County’s famous son, President Ulysses Grant, coined the term on one of his trips between the Willard Hotel and the White House. Grant often visited the Willard Hotel to escape the pressures of the White House.

A crowd would gather in the lobby of the Willard waiting for him to pass through so that they might have a minute to discuss their favorite issues with him. He called them lobbyists. And so a Clermont County native named a profession that has been ridiculed ever sense.
A simple way to describe a lobbyist is an individual who is associated with an organization or an industry, for example, a labor union or the healthcare industry, who communicates with Members of Congress and other government representatives to encourage them to introduce or vote for legislation favorable -- or against measures unfavorable -- to an interest that he or she represents.
While I believe that the opportunity to petition our government is an important part of the democratic process, a recent scandal involving an influential lobbyist has underscored the need for comprehensive lobbying reform in Washington. Just last week, the Speaker of the House, J. Dennis Hastert, and the Chairman of the House Rules Committee, David Dreier, called for bold, bipartisan action in reforming lobbying in the House of Representatives. In fact, we hope to get a proposal to the floor when the House reconvenes.

I am looking forward to supporting this important measure because I believe we need to reform so it’s clear beyond a shadow of the doubt what the rules are for Members of Congress and their staffs. I also believe we have a duty to do everything we can to keep the trust and confidence of our constituents.

I’ve had the opportunity to review the initial proposals in the lobbying reform package and I believe we are on the right track. The package includes a more restrictive gift ban limiting Members and staff from personally benefiting from gifts from lobbyists. This doesn’t mean that a Member of Congress can’t accept a baseball hat or a tee-shirt from a local school, but it does mean that he or she doesn’t need to be treated to lunch or dinner by a lobbyist.

The reforms also call for the elimination of House Floor access for former Members of Congress who go on to become registered lobbyists and expansion of the post-employment lobbying ban from one to two years for former Members of Congress and senior-level Congressional staff.

Of course, the underlying message throughout all of these reforms is enhanced transparency and accountability, and to require stronger and more frequent disclosure on the part of lobbyists and third parties. We need to put these reforms in place so that they are efficient, effective and provide the American people with more information about their elected representatives’ interactions with lobbyists.

In 1995, the new majority were the first to crack down on lobbyist disclosure when they introduced and passed the Lobbying Disclosure Act. The law requires all lobbyists who are compensated for their activities to register with the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate and to file semiannual reports of their activities. They also instituted more stringent gift rules that stated that a Member or Staff may accept a gift valued under $50, but limit the total value of gifts from a single source to less than $100 in a calendar year. While these were positive steps in the right direction, we are long overdue for better, stronger reforms.

We have a full plate when we return to Washington next week. We’ll tackle the Deficit Reduction Act, the Patriot Act, and lobbying reform. It’s an aggressive agenda, but I am looking forward to playing an active role in bringing about positive change.



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