Taking on lobbyists

ONE HAPPY RESULT of Democratic control of Capitol Hill has been a bidding war between the House and Senate over which can do more to redeem House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's promise that the 110th Congress would be the most open and honest in history.

In acting on lobbying reform legislation last week, the House Judiciary Committee had the opportunity to see and raise what the Senate accomplished in its ethics legislation in January. Instead, the committee produced a less rigorous bill.

The good news about the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 is that it follows the Senate in requiring public disclosure of "bundling" of campaign contributions by lobbyists.

Bundling is the practice in which a single source orchestrates and takes credit for a collection of contributions to a candidate or campaign. Campaign reform groups have worried that nervous House Democrats might deep-six bundling disclosure. It's to Pelosi's credit that they didn't.

Bundling creates a category of middlemen to whom cash-hungry candidates are indebted. But bundling by registered lobbyists has the additional effect of increasing the clout of those who are in the day-to-day business of trying to influence legislation. Now lobbyists' bundling efforts would be a matter of public record.

On another issue -- the revolving door between Capitol Hill and K Street -- the House committee should have followed the Senate's lead but didn't. The Senate bill would increase from one year to two the "cooling-off period" in which retired or defeated members of Congress are forbidden from lobbying their former colleagues. The House Judiciary Committee would preserve the status quo. When the bill reaches the House floor, reformers should resurrect the two-year ban.

Finally, the House committee missed an opportunity to one-up the Senate. An omission in the Senate bill concerns what has come to be known as AstroTurf -- not the artificial grass in sports stadiums but phony "grass-roots" lobbying paid for by lobbying firms.

After an outcry from activists, the Senate excluded a requirement that lobbying firms disclose what they spent in ginning up such supposedly spontaneous campaigns. An amendment to close that loophole was defeated in committee.

Critics argue that AstroTurf disclosure would target free speech by citizens who have a constitutional right to petition their government. But sometimes the "voice of the people" is a pitch by professional lobbyists. One would think that members of Congress would want to know which is which. Certainly the public should know.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Wednesday May 23, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 20 Editorial Pages Desk 1 inches; 59 words Type of Material: Correction Lobbying reform: An editorial May 21 said the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 approved by the House Judiciary Committee includes a requirement that the "bundling" of campaign contributions be disclosed. The bundling provision was contained in a separate measure approved by the panel that Democrats say will be added to the main legislation on the floor.
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