Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007

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On January 4th, 2007 the Senate began its legislative work in the 110th session with the introduction of the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007 (S.1) by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev).
Article summary (how summaries work)


Contents

Current status

On July 30 and August 2, 2007, respectively, the House and Senate passed the ethics bill. Each chamber had previously passed separate versions, but agreed on a common version earlier in the summer. It is currently awaiting action by President Bush.


Earmarks

Earmarks are not prohibited from bills, but the bills must list all earmarks, targeted tax benefits and targeted tariff benefits, identify the members who proposed the provisions and explain the essential government purpose of the provision. The bill’s provisions are to be made available to all members and the public via the Internet for at least 48 hours before consideration on the floor. A provision allows for exception to the 48-hour rule if compliance is not technologically feasible. The Majority Leader can also waive that requirement.[1]

A member who proposes an earmark, targeted tariff or tax benefit must certify that neither the member nor his or her spouse has a financial interest in the provision.[1]

The bill also aims to put an end to anonymous holds on bills. Under current Senate procedures at the time the bill was considered, any senator can hold a bill from proceeding to the floor, but does not have to reveal who he or she is. This bill allows for holds, but requires that the senator holding is identified. The bill also limits a senator's ability to include a provision in a bill at the last minute by providing more options to oppose the individual addition without having to oppose the entire bill.[1]

Conference reports

Conference reports, the product of a House-Senate committee to iron out differences in a bill, must be made available to members and the general public via the Internet for at least 48 hours before its consideration. The requirement can be waived by a 3/5th vote of senators. Conference reports may not be considered if the text has been changed after the report has been signed by a majority of Senate conferees.[1]

Lobbying by former members and staff

Ex-senators, and senators-elect, ex-secretaries, ex-sergeants-at Arms, and ex-Speakers of the House who are registered lobbyists or agents of a foreign principal, are not afforded floor privileges when the Senate is in session, but may be allowed on the floor ceremonial functions.[1]

A Senate staff member who is paid 75% or more of what a senator is paid, leaves a position and becomes a registered lobbyist or is retained by a registered lobbyist for the purpose of influencing legislation, may not lobby any member, officer or employee of the Senate for one year after leaving the Senate.[1]

A member shall not negotiate or have any arrangement concerning prospective private employment until after his or her successor has been elected unless the member files a statement with the Senate Secretary, for public disclosure within 3 business days after the negotiations began.[1]

If a members' spouse or immediate family member is a registered lobbyist or is employed by one for the purpose of influencing legislation, the member shall prohibit all staff, including committee staff, from having any official contact with the Member’s spouse or immediate family member/lobbyist.[1]

Members are prohibited from influencing on the basis of political affiliation, an employment decision or practice of any private entity by taking or withholding an official act or threatening to do so. The member is also prohibited from influencing or offering or threatening to influence the official act of another member.[1]

Travel restrictions and disclosure

Before a member, officer of staff can accept transportation or lodging, they shall obtain a written certification from the person providing the trip or lodging that the trip was not financed in whole or in part by a registered lobbyist or foreign agent. In addition, certification is required to assert that the person did not accept, directly or indirectly, funds from a registered lobbyist or foreign agent specifically earmarked for financing travel expenses, that the trip was not planned, organized or arranged by or at the request of a registered foreign lobbyist or agent and that registered lobbyists will not participate in or attend the trip. The recipient will then provide to the Select Committee on Ethics a detailed itinerary of the trip and a determination that the trip is primarily educational, is consistent with the duties of the member or staff, does not create an appearance of the use of public office for private gain and has a minimal or no recreational component. Permission must be obtained from the Select Committee on Ethics.[1]

Despite the prohibition on lobbyist participation, the bill then requires a report by the recipient, 30 days after the travel describing meetings and events attended, and the names of any registered lobbyist who accompanied the member of staff. If the member or the staff supervisor deems that disclosure would jeopardize the safety of an individual or adversely affect national security, then the data need not be made public. Otherwise the information must be posted on the member’s website within 30 days.[1]

A Member must disclose a flight on a plane not licensed for commercial use (private charter) including date, destination, owner or lessee of the plane, purpose of the trip, persons on the trip except for the flight crew. A candidate for office other than president or vice-president must file the date of the flight, destination, owner or lessee of the plane, purpose of the flight persons on the flight other than the crew. [1]

All disclosures must be filed with the Senate Secretary and made public within 30 days of the trip.[1]

Cost of living increases

COLA “shall not be paid to any Member of Congress who voted for any amendment (or against the tabling of any amendment) that provided that such adjustment would not be made.” Any unpaid COLA will be deposited in the Treasury in an account called Medical Services under the Veterans Health Administration heading.[1]

Lobbying disclosure

Lobbyists must file quarterly disclosure reports on contributions, rather than twice yearly.

Lobbyists must report on contributions, to whom, how much and when and what the contributions were intended for. Gifts from lobbyists can only total $100 per year and the lobbyist must report gifts in excess of $20.00. Contributions to presidential libraries beyond $200 must be reported. Gift "means a gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance, or other item having monetary value. The term includes gifts of services, training, transportation, lodging, and meals, whether provided in-kind, by purchase of a ticket, payment in advance, or reimbursement after the expense has been incurred."[1]

All lobbying activity must be made available on the Internet for free in a searchable and downloadable manner in a database including all information in reports. Appropriations are authorized to build the Internet site. Lobbyists must also disclose if they have been employed in the Executive branch.[1]

Failure to report as required will bring a fine of $100,000 rather than the current $50,000. Criminal penalties include up to ten years in prison. A failure to provide information as required will bring a fine of $200,000.[1]

Lobbyists must disclose spending to stimulate grassroots lobbying, not to be confused with actual grassroots lobbying. Voluntary efforts by members of the general public to communicate their views on an issue and to encourage others to do so defines grassroots lobbying. Lobbyists often pay to stimulate those efforts on behalf of a client to influence the general public to contact elected officials to take specific action the lobbyist or the client wishes. The effort to pay to influence the general public as described only applies to efforts to influence more than 500 people. A grassroots lobbying firm must receive, agrees to spend or spend $25,000 or more each quarter to be identified as such.[1]

Senate

Ethics training for senators and staff is mandatory. New senators must attend within 60 days of starting work. Current senators and staff must attend within 120 days.[1]

Oversight

This bill establishes The Commission to Strengthen Confidence in Congress. The Commission will evaluate and report effectiveness of ethics requirements and penalties and make recommendations for new penalties; weigh the need for improved ethical conduct; determine if the current system is effective and transparent; analyze the effectiveness of the statutory framework governing lobbying; determine if additional changes need to be made. The Commission will have ten members appointed by the House and Senate members, Leadership and the parties, five from each. First report is due July 1, 2007 the last in 2012.[1]


Bill history: debate, amendments and passage


Same for all scorecards:
Scored vote

Scorecard: American Conservative Union 2007 Senate Scorecard

Org. position: Aye

Description:

"The Senate killed an amendment that would have required the disclosure of the names of Senators requesting special interest earmark spending and expanded the definition of earmarks to include federally-funded non-federal projects. ACU favors greater transparency in “earmarked” spending and favored this amendment"

(Original scorecard available at: http://www.acuratings.org/)

Same for all scorecards:
Scored vote

Scorecard: Club For Growth 2007 Senate Scorecard

Org. position: {{{Vote position 1}}}

Description:

"Vote on a DeMint amendment that would automatically fund the government at the previous year's level in the event that Congress fails to pass a spending bill. The pro-growth vote was "yea" because this back up funding mechanism will help encourage fiscal responsibility.. Failed 25-72."

(Original scorecard available at: http://www.clubforgrowth.org/2008/05/the_2007_congressional_scoreca_1.php)

Same for all scorecards:
Scored vote

Scorecard: American Conservative Union 2007 Senate Scorecard

Org. position: Aye

Description:

"The Senate adopted an amendment protecting grassroots lobbying organizations from having to reveal the names of their contributors. ACU favored this amendment."

(Original scorecard available at: http://www.acuratings.org/)

Scored vote

Scorecard: Family Research Council 2007-2008 Senate Scorecard

Org. position: Aye

Description:

"Senators Robert Bennett (R-UT) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offered an amendment (No. 20) to this year’s Lobby Reform Act (S.1). The amendment removed provisions in S.1 that would have regulated so-called grassroots lobbying activities."

(Original scorecard available at: http://www.frcaction.org/get.cfm?i=VR08I01)

Same for all scorecards:
Scored vote

Scorecard: National Journal 2007 Senate Scorecard

Org. position: Nay

Description:

"Establish a Senate Office of Public Integrity to handle ethics complaints against senators. January 18. (27-71)"

(Original scorecard available at: http://www.nationaljournal.com/voteratings/senate_votes.htm)


On January 18, 2007 the Senate overwhelmingly passed the Lobbying Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007, (S.1) 96-2. The full summary of the legislation is below. The full text of the legislation is also available at GovTrack.


Co-sponsors (by date)

The Act was co-sponsored at the beginning of the 110th Congress by 17 senators:

Conference

The Senate went to conference committee on the bill after the House passed similar lobbying and transparency legislation in several other bills.

Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who sought to extend the "revolving door" time period from one year to two years, asked to be on the conference committee regarding the legislation to pursue those reforms. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) denied Feingold's request. Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.), another major champion of lobbying reform, may be included in the conference committee, but his presidential campaign schedule may affect his ability to do so effectively. Many lobbying reform advocacy groups, including Public Citizen, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Democracy 21, Common Cause, and the League of Women voters, aware that the make up of the conference committee would be crucial in determining the final outcome of the legislation, were disappointed over the announcement.[2]

DeMint calls in last minute block

On June 28, 2007, Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) blocked a deal between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that would have started up long-stalled conference proceedings on the bill. DeMint made an objection to the agreement by phone to the Senate floor, minutes after McConnell had said Republicans would drop their objections to naming conferees. DeMint argued that he would not let the bill proceed until certain earmark reforms were accepted. He stated, "We will not have earmark reform during this year’s appropriations process. That is why this is being done," DeMint charged on the floor, adding later that "the only reason to go to conference with [the rules] in is to take them out."

Democrats responded, Harry Reid commenting, "Here we are, seconds from going to conference and a call comes in to the Republican cloak room. I understand the Minority Leader has a responsibility to take that ... but the eyes of the nation are on us... to not let us go to conference on some petty issue that my friend has raised is really bad.”[3]

Democrats unveil redrafted ethics package

After Sen. DeMint's successful blocking of the ethics bill, Democrats in the House and Senate unveiled a redrafted ethics package on July 30, 2007. Democratic leaders touted the new version of the bill as the strongest ethics reform in decades, but Republicans still offered strong criticism. The strongest disagreement still occurred over earmark transparency rules. For example, Republicans objected to provisions in the package that removed a ban on logrolling votes for earmarks and the changing of authority over earmark disclosure from the Senate parliamentarian to the Majority leader.[4] Senate Democrats defended these measures, stating that the language was simply changed to comply with reforms to House rules already enacted. Senate Democratic leaders also focused on a significant rules change allowing amendments to be added in conference committee, which would enable earmarks to be removed during conference. The House was expected to pass the legislation the following day, on July 31, with the Senate most likely holding a cloture vote within the following few days.[5]

Passage in the House

On July 31, 2007, the revised ethics package passed in the House in a 411-8 vote. Although still criticized by many legislators as not aggressive enough, the bill was considered to be the most far-reaching ethics reform attempted in Congress since those following the Watergate scandal. The measure faced much stiffer opposition to passage in the Senate, with a vote scheduled for the following day. Democratic leaders, however, expected an easy passage by the week's end. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), whose home was raided by federal investigators just days before as part of an Alaska corruption investigation, did threaten to block the legislation, citing that new restrictions on air travel would hinder members who live distant states, such as Alaska.[6][7]


Passage in the Senate

On August 2, 2007, the Senate passed the revised ethics package, which had cleared the House two days prior, in an 83-14 vote. The bill was then set to head to the president's desk for his signature. No veto threat had been made by the White House, but some uncertainty still loomed regarding presidential approval. Democrats heralded the bill's passage as a resounding success and accomplishment of one of their primary campaign promises. Despite the overwhelming support of the bill, many Senate Republicans, even some who eventually voted in favor of the measure, offered strong criticism. Republican senators who opposed the legislation stated that it was not strong enough, particularly regarding earmark disclosure, or found flaws in many of the bill's provisions, such as one requiring presidents to reimburse the government for use of Air Force One on campaign trips.[8][9]


Amendments

A large number of amendments were submitted for the Act. See the main article for details and record votes.

Main article: Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007/Amendments

Support, opposition and critiques

Taxpayers for Common Sense, a group committed to being an "independent voice for American taxpayers," argued that while this bill was a step in the right direction, it fell short of useful transparency and left loopholes for earmarks to remain hidden from the public. One complaint was that the legislation only required that earmark sponsor names be revealed once a committee report was filed, which is usually a day before a bill receives a vote. This, they argued, does not leave time for the earmarks to be examined before the vote. Another issue is a loophole labled the "immaculate conception" earmark. In these cases, an earmark is included in a bill without being requested by a member. For example, in a bill declared "earmark free" by a committee, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) pointed out what was clearly an earmark: $35 million for risk mitigation projects in Mississippi. It met all the criteria for an earmark, but Appropriations Committee Chair David Obey (D-Wis.) stood on the floor and explained that it couldn't be an earmark because no member requested it. Rather, he had put the provision into the bill himself. [10]

Main article: Earmarks

Articles and resources

See also

References

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 Robert McElroy, "S1 Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007," TheWeekInCongress, August 3, 2007.
  2. Alexander Bolton, "Feingold snub blow to 2-year revolving door," The Hill, June 15, 2007.
  3. John Stanton, "DeMint Blocks Leadership Deal on Ethics Bill Conference," The Hill, June 29, 2007.
  4. Elana Schor, "Dems unveil ethics plan," The Hill, July 31, 2007.
  5. Bart Jansen and Alan K. Ota, "New Tool Against Earmarks Unveiled," CQ, July 30, 2007.
  6. Jonathan Weisman, "House Votes 411-8 to Pass Ethics Overhaul," Washington Post, August 1, 2007.
  7. Robert McElroy, "Managing America," TheWeekInCongress, August 7, 2007.
  8. Manu Raju, "Ethics bill is bound for White House," The Hill, August 3, 2007.
  9. Robert McElroy, "Managing America," TheWeekInCongress, August 7, 2007.
  10. Steve Ellis, Congressional Couch Potatoes, April 13, 2007.

External resources

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