U.S. federal ethics, transparency, and campaign finance legislation, 110th Congress

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Changes to rules and laws governing ethics, transparency, and campaign finance were a reoccurring theme in the 2006 elections and ranked as a high concern of voters in exit polls.[1] Democrats campaigning for Congress made ethics reform a major plank of their agenda. When Democrats came into power in the 110th Congress they immediately introduced ethics reform bills into the House and Senate. This article covers all ethics, transparency, and campaign finance legislation in the 110th Congress.


Ethics and corruption issues in the 2006 elections and the Democratic campaign agenda

The Democrats' plan is to introduce individually a selection of lobbying and ethics reforms that comprised the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2006, an all-in-one package introduced last year. The proposed reforms include:

  • Banning all gifts, meals, and travel to members and staff.
  • Doubling the “cooling-off” period from one to two years.
  • Requiring members and staff to report outside negotiations for jobs.
  • Require conference committees to be open to the public.
  • Ban members and staff from pressuring outside groups to hire based on partisan preference.

The Democratic leadership also promises to make earmarking transparent by requiring all earmarks to list a sponsor and banning the insertion of earmarks into conference reports.[2]


Legislation addressing ethics and campaign finance changes can apply to House and Senate rules as well as federal law.

Legislation in the Senate

Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act

In January 2007, the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007 was introduced. The legislation addressed lobbyist and earmark disclosure, as well as campaign finance reforms.[3]

Main article: Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007

Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act

On January 9, 2007, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) introduced the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act (S.233), which would amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to require Senate candidates to file election-related designations, statements, and reports in electronic form. It would then require the Secretary of the Senate to forward a copy of any electronically filed designation, statement, or report to the Federal Election Commission within one working day (instead of two working days, which had been required under previous law) after receiving it. At the time the bill was introduced, both House and presidential candidates already filed electronically. [4]

The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.

Main article: Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act of 2007

Legislation in the House

Raising Congressional salaries

During the 2006 election cycle many Democratic candidates in competitive races ran ads attacking Republicans for having sought Congressional pay raises while refusing to raise the minimum wage. Additionally, due to Republicans' failure to raise the minimum wage, Democratic lawmakers in the 109th Congress voted to freeze Cost of Living (COLA) adjustments to congressional salaries.[5] In the 110th Congress, following Democratic legislation to raise the minimum wage, Democratic lawmakers in the House voted to reinstate COLA adjustments, and raise congressional salaries by 2.7 percent or $4,400, increasing compensation to $169,660 the following year. Republican lawmakers threatened to attack Democrats for giving themselves a pay raise, with Rep Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.) arguing that "Everything’s on the record and everything’s going to be used."[6]

Bill to deny congressional pension to convicted criminals

In January 2007, (H.R.476), a law which would prohibit future convicted members of Congress from receiving a congressional pension, passed 431-0. The bill would not effect former convicted Reps. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.), or any other congressmen convicted prior to the 110th Congress.[7]

Rules changes in the House

In January 2007, several new House rules were created, as well as changed, to bolster congressional ethics including:

Flight compensation

In March 2007, a liaison from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) met with Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office in order to amend the House rules regarding compensation for Congressional air travel. The rules were changed in January, requiring Congressmen to pay non-commercial aircraft owners the full price of a ticket, which the FAA rules prohibit. While this has prevented Members from using lobbyists aircraft, it also grounded several personal aircraft amongst Democratic and Republican Lawmakers. Pelosi was attempting to change the rules via voice-vote, (which required unanimous consent) but Boehner has refused to consider "piecemeal changes" and was holding out for other Rules changes regarding earmarks.[8]

On May 2 2007, the House voted by voice vote on H.R. 363 to remove airplane travel restrictions. The measure was sponsored by Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Rep. Samuel Graves (R-MO). The new rules allow members to fly in a friend's airplane for free. The rules change also provides that members who are certified pilots may again fly their own aircraft.[9][10]

Financial Disclosure

In March 2007, House members including, John Boehner (R-Ohio) are asking the ethics committee for written guidelines to clarify the new financial interest disclosure rules.[11]

"There are many ways by which members express support for specific appropriations - both orally and in writing - at various stages of the legislative process," Boehner wrote. "In the absence of written guidance, members are understandably uncertain about which official actions would trigger the requirement in the rule."[12]

Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) offices responded,

"It is our understanding that the ethics committee is issuing guidelines on Tuesday, and we're working with the committees to try to provide the necessary flexibility so members can accurately fill out the certification,"[13]

The first round of reporting was due on March 22, 2007.[14]

Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2007

On March 1, 2007, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) introduced the Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2007 (H.R.1255). The bill would rescind a 2001 executive order by President Bush giving current and former presidents and vice presidents the authority to withhold presidential records or delay their release indefinitely. [15]

On March 14, 2007, the bill passed, 333-93.

Following the vote, the Bush administration indicated that the president would likely veto the bill because it would "invite unnecessary litigation, is misguided and would improperly impinge on the president's constitutional authority." [16]

Main article: Presidential Records Act

Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007

On May 24, 2007, the House considered a bill, (H.R.2316), designed to provide more rigorous requirements with respect to disclosure and enforcement of lobbying laws and regulations.[17]

Specifically, the bill would:

  • Ban former members of Congress, employees of Congress and executive branch officials from returning to Congress as a registered lobbyist for two years after leaving service or employment.
  • Require that if a member wants to negotiate for a job as a lobbyist while still in office, the member must wait until his or her predecessor has been elected or must file with the Clerk within three days of when negotiations began.
  • Require lobbyists to file quarterly disclosure statements, rather than the semiannual reporting previously required. Firms would need to certify that they have not and their employees have not provided, requested or directed a gift, including travel to a member of Congress or an officer or employee of the House or Senate in violation of rules governing such gifts.
  • Require lobbyists offering contributions to report on a quarterly basis. This would include the name of the recipient, employer (House of Senate), names of political committees established or administered by the lobbyist, and the name of each federal candidate or officeholder, leadership PAC or political party committee to whom total contributions exceed $200. Also to be reported is the amounts spent to pay the cost of an event to honor or recognize a legislative branch official or executive branch official. Cost of meetings, retreats, conferences or such events must be disclosed.
  • Require that gifts and travel provided may not be done if the person offering has knowledge that the gift or travel may not be accepted under the House rules.
  • State that any member or employee attempting to influence on the basis of partisan political affiliation may be fined or imprisoned for not more than 15 years or both and may be disqualified from holding any office of honor, trust or profit in the US.
  • Require that a Member prohibit all staff employed by him or her from having any official contact with the Member’s spouse if the spouse is a lobbyist or employed by a lobbying firm for the purpose of influencing legislation.[18]

The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), passed 396-22.[19]

Lobbying Transparency Act of 2007

On May 24, 2007, the House considered a bill,(H.R.2317) sponsored by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), which would amend the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 to require registered lobbyists to file quarterly reports on contributions bundled for certain recipients.[20]

The bill defines recipients as federal candidates, someone holding public office, political party committees or a leadership political action committee associated with a seated office holder and political committees of the political parties.[21]

According to the bill, the contributions must be or must have been credited to or attributed to the registered lobbyist through records, designations, recognitions or other means allowing for tracking by the recipient. The recipient is to be notified by certified mail in advance of the filing and within 25 days of the end of the quarter of the content of the filing. The filing is due within 45 days of the quarter end.[22]

The bill passed, 382-37.[23]

Creation of an independent ethics commission

On June 1, 2007, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced her intention to create an independent ethics commission that would allow outside groups to file complaints against members of Congress, which previously could only be filed by other members. The commission as proposed by a task force chaired by Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) could filter complaints, but would have no judging authority.[24]

Articles and resources

See also


  1. "Corruption named as key issue by voters in exit polls," CNN, November 8, 2006.
  2. Jonathan Weisman, "Democrats Plan Series of Votes on Ethics Reforms," Washington Post, November 21, 2006.
  3. THOMAS: S.1, Library of Congress.
  4. OpenCongress page on the bill
  5. Staff Reports, "Lawmakers Clear Path To 2.7 Percent Pay Raise Next Year," CongressDailyAM, June 28, 2007.
  6. Jonathan Allen, "Uneasy Bipartisan Alliance Protects Pay Raise," CQ, June 27, 2007.
  7. Jim Abrams, "House Lawmakers Deny Pensions to Felons," Associated Press (via Washington Post), January 24, 2007.
  8. Susan Crabtree, "Boehner vs. Pelosi on snafu," The Hill, March 8, 2007.
  9. John Kass, "Congressmen fly in the face of ethics", Chicago Tribune, May 9, 2007.
  10. Memo: Interim Process for Voluntary Certification of Privately Funded Travel Taken in Connection with Official Duties, House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, May 10, 2006.
  11. Josephine Hearn and Jonathan Martin, "Members Confused By New Ethics Rule," Politico, March 16, 2007.
  12. Josephine Hearn and Jonathan Martin, "Members Confused By New Ethics Rule," Politico, March 16, 2007.
  13. Josephine Hearn and Jonathan Martin, "Members Confused By New Ethics Rule," Politico, March 16, 2007.
  14. Josephine Hearn and Jonathan Martin, "Members Confused By New Ethics Rule," Politico, March 16, 2007.
  15. "House passes 3 bills to shine light on records," CNN.com, March 14, 2007.
  16. "House passes 3 bills to shine light on records," CNN.com, March 14, 2007.
  17. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Lobby Reform," TheWeekInCongress, May 24, 2007.
  18. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Lobby Reform," TheWeekInCongress, May 24, 2007.
  19. Robert McElroy, "Managing America: Lobby Reform," TheWeekInCongress, May 24, 2007.
  20. Robert McElroy, "Managing America," TheWeekInCongress, May 24, 2007.
  21. Robert McElroy, "Managing America," TheWeekInCongress, May 24, 2007.
  22. Robert McElroy, "Managing America," TheWeekInCongress, May 24, 2007.
  23. Robert McElroy, "Managing America," TheWeekInCongress, May 24, 2007.
  24. Mike Soraghan, "Pelosi committed to allowing outside groups file ethics complaints" The Hill), June 1, 2007.

External resources

External articles