Overdue ethics reform merits Bush signature
Congress has approved major reform of rules governing members and lobbyists.
CONGRESS has approved sweeping ethics reforms disclosing campaign contributions bundled by lobbyists and notice of funding members' pet projects. The reforms, if signed into law, would be a significant deterrence to corruption that has Congress in disrepute in recent years.
The bill was approved by overwhelming votes of 411-8 in the House and 83-14 in the Senate. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called it "the most sweeping reform bill since Watergate," but Rep. Neil Abercrombie, denouncing it as "window dressing," cast an opposing vote.
"True lobby reform must put limits on political contributions and campaign expenditures," Abercrombie said. President Bush said he also had "serious concerns" about the bill because of "toothless provisions" for disclosing "earmarks" -- the funding of special- interest projects. Any such deficiencies can be corrected in future legislation.
The bill requires a lawmaker to disclose the names of lobbyists who raise $15,000 or more from clients and associates within a six-month period. Senators would have to disclose their earmarks 48 hours before a Senate vote on them and certify that they have no direct financial interest.
As chairman of the Senate defense appropriations committee, Sen. Daniel Inouye has authority over large amounts of discretionary spending and earmarks. Most of his projects support military activities in Hawaii and special needs in the islands such as fighting brown tree snakes.
The congressional action came as Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, faced two FBI probes involving earmarks. Agents are investigating federal expenditures on an Alaska research center that allegedly was used to buy land from a former Stevens aide. The FBI searched the senator's expanded Alaska home as part of an investigation tied to an Alaska energy company that received federal contracts.
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