House Approves Curbs on Gifts, Free Trips : Lobbying: Measure faces uncertain fate in the Senate after overcoming strong GOP effort to kill it and deny the Democrats a pre-election victory.
Reviving a long-dormant reform issue in the waning days of Congress, the House Thursday approved a bill to ban lobbyists from giving free meals, travel and entertainment to members of Congress and their staff aides.
The measure, which faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, was passed in the House by a vote of 306 to 112 after narrowly overcoming strong Republican-led efforts to kill the legislation and deny Democrats a pre-election victory.
Adopted with strong support from the large freshman class, the bill was designed to curb the widespread practice of lobbyists picking up the tab for expensive meals, golf outings and tickets to sports events for members of Congress. It even forbids lobbyists from giving lawmakers a bottle of wine. The gift ban would take effect next May 31.
“This is about changing the way we do business in Washington,” said Rep. John Bryant (D-Tex.), floor manager for the compromise bill that was bogged down for months in a Senate-House conference.
“Gift-giving has become an integral part of the money-driven Washington way of life,” added Rep. Jill Long (D-Ind.).
Republicans, however, assailed the measure for banning lobbyists from giving lawmakers free meals and trips but doing nothing to curtail campaign giving from the same source.
“Would you believe this bill approves of a lobbyist giving you a $5,000 PAC (political action committee contribution) but it prohibits that very same person from taking you to McDonald’s for a Big Mac?” asked House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.). “How ridiculous!”
But Bryant said that campaign financing restrictions are covered in another bill that is tied up in the Senate by a Republican-led filibuster. He accused the House measure’s GOP critics of raising last-minute arguments that they had failed to make when the bill previously passed the House last March.
Opponents tried to prevent the bill from coming to a vote but were defeated, 216 to 205. They also lost a move to send the bill back to committee, which would have effectively killed it, by a vote of 215 to 202. But once efforts to kill the bill failed, many opponents switched sides, not wanting to be on the record as voting against reforms.
The far-reaching bill also would require professional lobbyists of Congress and senior officials of the executive branch to register and disclose what legislation or regulations they are trying to influence. These provisions would take effect in January, 1996.
A new Office of Lobbying Registration and Public Disclosure, headed by a director appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, would enforce the bill with civil penalties ranging from $10,000 for minor violations to $200,000 for serious violations.
Even non-lobbyists would be barred from providing lawmakers with food or refreshments worth more than $20, except in lawmakers’ home states or districts, or unless the gifts come from close personal friends or family members.
Business firms and other organizations still would be able to pay for travel expenses of lawmakers going to speaking engagements or fact-finding trips if the travel is related to official duties.