In a move clearly aimed at former Republican Rep. Robert K. Dornan of Garden Grove, a New Jersey Democrat plans to introduce legislation today that would ban former members from entering the House chamber to lobby their onetime colleagues on pending matters in which they have personal or financial stakes.
"It sends the wrong message to the public and is in fact wrong" to give former lawmakers access denied average citizens, said Rep. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the measure's sponsor. "It . . . has a corrosive influence upon the House. It is not proper."
Menendez said that his resolution would tighten a loophole in existing rules exposed by Dornan's visits to the House floor in recent days to chat personally with members about his challenge to last November's election, in which Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) beat him by 979 votes. Dornan has charged that he lost because of massive voting fraud, and a House committee is investigating his complaint.
Current rules prohibit former members from lobbying on the floor on any legislation before the full House. The new rule also would ban floor lobbying on matters--such as the investigation of voting by noncitizens in the Dornan-Sanchez contest--that are pending in committees or subcommittees.
Access to the floor "has been a privilege accorded to House members. There is an abuse when the privilege is being used . . . to lobby on something that is directly related to you," Menendez said. "If the roles were reversed [and] citizen Sanchez [had] lost, she and any other citizen who had not been a former member of the House would not have that access."
Although Menendez portrayed his plan as one of equal access, Republicans denounced it as just another weapon in the highly partisan war over the election in Orange County's 46th Congressional District. The Democrats have vowed not to let Congress adjourn in October as planned unless the inquiry into illegal voting is dropped. Republicans have promised to return fire with similar guerrilla tactics.
"These guys are going to desperate lengths to try to punish Bob Dornan. It's sort of desperation tactics," said Tony Rudy, a spokesman for Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), the majority whip. "Lobbyists who are former members have access that regular lobbyists don't. That's one of the benefits of membership."
With Republicans controlling the House, chances of passage for Menendez's proposal seem slim. Besides, some members may be loath to limit privileges that they will one day enjoy. "It's not high on our agenda," Rudy said.
But Sanchez said that she has heard complaints from both sides of the aisle about Dornan's direct appeal for support in the members' private sanctuary.
"Lobbying is not allowed on the House floor. They felt it was inappropriate," she said.