Times Reporter

May 2, 2006

Ney and Regula leaning toward support of lobby reform bill

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON - Area lawmakers will vote as early as Wednesday on legislation that backers say will help clean up corruption in Congress but that opponents argue does not go nearly far enough.

Reps. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, and Bob Ney, R-Heath, appear to be leaning in support of the proposal after voting last week for a measure that clears the way for the bill to be considered later this week.

Aides said both lawmakers were still reviewing the legislation and had not made up their minds.

The bill, which Republican leaders view as critical to maintaining GOP control of Congress in the upcoming election, requires increased disclosure of federal spending projects that lawmakers put in legislation to benefit their congressional districts - often referred to as earmarks.

"I think the intent of the bill is for members to be able to go home and say they voted for reform without having any real reform," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, an opponent of the bill.

Champions of the legislation, such as Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., defend the proposal as a significant step forward that is the product of input from both Democrats and Republicans.

Democratic lawmakers, complaining that Republican leaders rejected the majority of amendments that would have made the legislation tougher, unanimously opposed a narrowly adopted measure last week that allows the proposal to be debated this week.

The legislation would ban privately paid travel for lawmakers for the rest of the year, while instructing the House Ethics Committee to come up with a long-term travel plan by Dec. 15.

The bill also requires lobbyists to file reports - disclosing who their clients are and how much they have been paid - four times a year instead of the current twice a year. The reports would be available to the public on the Internet.

Lobbyists also would have to report whether they worked for the government during the previous seven years or raised funds for candidates or political action committees.

House Republican leaders began crafting the legislation earlier this year after a series of high-profile scandals involving former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., and one-time Republican superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, among others.

Cunningham pleaded guilty to accepting millions of dollars in bribes from defense contractors who benefited when he put federal spending projects into legislation at their request.

In a separate case, Abramoff and two fellow lobbyists pleaded guilty to offering lawmakers - including Ney - things of value, such as a lavish golf trip to Scotland, in return for legislative action favorable to their clients.

Ney, who is under investigation by federal prosecutors, insists he has not done anything wrong or illegal.

In an interview last week, Regula said he was still studying the lobbying proposal.

"I want to wait until I read all the details," he said when asked whether he would vote for it.

Ney "strongly supports lobbying reform efforts" but still was reviewing the bill, his spokesman Brian Walsh said Monday.

Reps. Ted Strickland, D-Lisbon, and Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, were leaning against the bill because they believe it does not go far enough.

One of the proposal's key provisions is meant to shed more light on earmarks - federal spending projects that are put in bills to benefit lawmakers' constituents.

In the past, many of these projects have been difficult if not impossible to decipher within spending legislation.

Unlike the majority of federal spending, which is competitively bid or allocated on the basis of formula by federal agencies, earmarked spending projects - such as the building of health centers or government research projects - are targeted to a specific state, district, city or even company.

Critics deride the projects as wasteful pork and note that their cost has more than doubled, to $9.3 billion in the past 10 years.

The proposal requires the projects to carry the name of the lawmakers who requested them.

Several self-styled watchdog groups that have pressed for lobbying reform, including Common Cause and Public Citizen, oppose the legislation as too weak.

Sloan, one of those opponents, said the corruption revealed in the investigations of Abramoff and Cunningham is "really not addressed with this bill. The main problem is there's no oversight or enforcement mechanisms" in the legislation.

Critics fault the proposal for not creating a congressional office of public integrity, which they say could provide oversight. They also are calling for permanent restrictions on privately paid travel and increased disclosure of lobbying activities.