The House Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a watered-down version of the Senate’s so-called “never-again Mike Deaver” bill that would restrict government lobbying by former presidents, vice presidents, members of Congress, congressional staff members and high-level executive branch officials.
The bill cleared the House by a vote of 374 to 19, but it is uncertain whether the House and Senate can agree on a compromise version of the bill before the 100th Congress adjourns, probably some time next week. Several influential senators such as Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) are opposed to certain provisions in the House-passed bill.
The legislation was inspired by the cases of former Reagan aides Michael K. Deaver, who was convicted of lying to Congress about his lobbying contacts with top Administration officials, and Lyn Nofziger, who was found guilty of illegal lobbying.
The bill is intended not only to further restrict lobbying by departing federal officials, but also to address Nofziger’s frequent complaint that he and other former executive branch officials are restricted from doing things that former members of Congress can do.
Although the House bill is weaker than the Senate version, Rep. Clay E. Shaw Jr. (R-Fla.) hailed it as “landmark legislation” because the post-government service activities of members of Congress and their employees have never before been restricted and, in fact, many young professionals view congressional employment as a steppingstone to high-paying jobs in the private sector.
Nevertheless, even strong supporters of the bill insisted that these restrictions were not written in response to any evidence of wrongdoing by members of Congress or their staff members but grew instead out of an inaccurate public “perception” that members of Congress take advantage of their office.
“We do not come here because any pattern of egregious abuse has been demonstrated,” declared Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), primary author of the House bill. “The average ethical and moral conduct is higher here than it is in society.”
‘Not Held in High Esteem’
But Shaw later acknowledged: “Perceptions out there are not altogether too bright. We are not held in high esteem.”
Opponents of the bill, including Rep. Don Edwards (D-San Jose), questioned why Congress should impose unnecessary restrictions on itself without cause. “The question is, do we need a new ethics bill?” Edwards asked. “I see no evidence that the current law needs changing.”
The House bill prohibits former members of Congress from lobbying in their own chamber for one year after departing and bans former senior legislative staff members who earned more than $72,500 from contacting their former committee or office for one year. Under the Senate-passed bill, the ban on former members would apply to lobbying both chambers and the prohibition on staff would apply to lobbying throughout the chamber in which one served.
Both the House and Senate bills also restrict a government employee involved in trade negotiations with another country from going to work as a lobbyist or adviser for that government but the Senate limits are somewhat tougher. Among other things, the Senate ban stands for 18 months, while the House prohibition ends after one year.
Prohibited From Lobbying
Under the current conflict-of-interest law, executive branch officials are prohibited from ever representing any other person or company before the federal government on any matter involving specific parties with whom he was personally involved during his government tenure.
Although former senior executive branch officials also are currently prohibited for one year from having any contact with the agency for which they worked, this provision is less restrictive than it appears because agencies have been carved into very narrow units for purposes of enforcing this law. The Justice Department, for example, is viewed as more than 200 separate agencies under this law.
Although the bill was weakened in the House to win the support of such influential skeptics as Judiciary Committee Chairman Peter W. Rodino Jr. (D-N.J.), who voted for it, many of the less stringent House restrictions were expected to be rejected by the Senate.