House Finally Passes Sweeping Ethics Overhaul
AUGUST 01, 2007
Responding to widespread voter anger over dozens of lawmakers involved in corruption scandals, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the most sweeping ethics overhaul in more than three decades.
Approved this week by a vote of 411-8, the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act mainly aims to curb the huge influence that lobbyists have on legislators, a controversial issue highlighted by a scandal in which a prominent lobbyist (Jack Abramoff) and two congressmen (Randy Duke Cunningham of California and Bob Ney of Ohio) were sent to prison on corruption charges.
The new bill will require, for the first time, full disclosure of campaign contributions that lobbyists collect from clients, friends and other special interests trying to influence lawmakers. The popular practice is called bundling and public officials use it to covertly raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from secret influential sources.
The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act will also end the abusive process of earmarking, which allows legislators to steer millions of dollars in federal funds to pet projects by sneaking last-minute provisions into spending bills. Lobbyists are often involved in the process and much of the public money goes to special interests.
Recent examples include; a Democratic Pennsylvania Congressman (John Murtha) allocating $1 million to an organization that doesn’t even exist, a Republican Alaska Congressman (Don Young) slipping a $10 million earmark into a transportation bill for a Florida road that will benefit a major campaign contributor and the Speaker of the House (California Democrat Nancy Pelosi) sneaking a $25 million provision – to benefit her husband financially–into an approved multi billion-dollar redevelopment bill.
The new measure will also deny taxpayer-funded congressional pensions to lawmakers convicted of felonies. Currently, more than 20 members of Congress who have been convicted of crimes receive their federal pension at an annual cost of about $1 million. Among them are Cunningham and Ney who continue receiving their checks in jail. Cunningham gets $64,000 a year and Ney gets $29,000.
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