LEGISLATIVE TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY ACT OF 2006
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, today the Senate failed to live up to its responsibility to keep faith with the American people and change the way business is done in Washington. I oppose the lobbying reform bill because it does not go far enough to effectively change the way business is done in Washington.
It is not enough to reform the earmarking process. It is not enough to ban gifts and meals from lobbyists. It is not enough to rein in pay-to-play schemes like the Republican K Street project. Changing the rules does no good if we have ineffective enforcement and fundamental reform is needed.
It is not reform if business as usual continues and the fox is left guarding the chicken coop.
We need an outside entity, whether a congressional inspector general, as I proposed, or an ethics commission, as Senator Obama proposed, or an Office of Public Integrity as Senators COLLINS and LIEBERMAN proposed, to police Congressional ethics violations. It is wrong that the Senate failed to establish an Office of Public Integrity. Some of my colleagues apparently are fine with the status quo. I couldn't disagree more strongly. We need an independent entity to ensure Members act ethically. We need an independent entity to ensure that no one changes the rules as they play the game as the House tried to do just last year. We need an independent entity to ensure that violations are investigated and that offenders are punished. Without such an independent entity, this attempt at ethics reform runs the risk of not being considered real or serious.
The fact is that Congress has not been able to effectively investigate or appropriately punish its Members for ethical violations. Last year, House Republican leaders were forced to rescind their attempts to change their Ethics Committee rules to protect former House majority leader TOM DELAY from further ethics investigations. The House Ethics Committee never sanctioned Randy ``Duke'' Cunningham, and neither the House nor the Senate Ethics Committees has opened an investigation into the Jack Abramoff scandal. We can tinker with disclosure and gift rules all we want, but until we get tough on enforcement, no significant change will happen.
A few weeks ago, former Representative ``Duke'' Cunningham received the longest prison sentence ever imposed on a former Member of Congress. His crime? Collecting $2.4 million in homes, yachts, antique furnishings, and other bribes--including a Rolls-Royce--from defense contractors. This disgraceful conduct--beyond comprehension for me and most of my colleagues--earned him 8 years and 4 months in a Federal prison and orders to pay the Government $1.8 million in penalties and $1.85 million in ill-gotten gains.
What is almost as shocking as Duke Cunningham's bribes is that under today's rules, the American taxpayer is still paying for his congressional pension--a pension worth approximately $40,000 per year. Under today's rules, Duke Cunningham will collect his pension--paid for by the American taxpayers--while he sits in jail for violating the law and ethics as a Congressman. That is simply unacceptable. And it has got to change.
That is why Senator Salazar and I introduced the Congressional Pension Accountability Act and attempted to offer as an amendment to the lobbying reform bill. Our amendment would have denied Federal pensions to Members of Congress who are convicted of white-collar crimes such as bribery--Members who perform acts like Randy ``Duke'' Cunningham.
As elected representatives, we must hold ourselves and all those who represent the Federal Government to the highest ethical standards. The principle is a simple one: Public servants who abuse the public trust and are convicted of ethics crimes should not collect taxpayer-financed pensions. Right now, only a conviction for a crime against the United States, such as treason or espionage, will cost a Member of Congress their pension. There is no reason the law should not be changed to ensure that Congress does not reward unethical behavior. But because debate on the lobbying reform bill was unnecessarily limited, I was prevented from offering my amendment to prevent Duke Cunningham and other Members who violate the law from collecting their pensions.
There are other important issues that the lobbying reform bill fails to address. For example, although the bill bans gifts and meals from lobbyists, it does not apply to the organizations that employ the lobbyists. Nor does it apply to lobbyists paying for parties to ``honor'' or ``recognize'' Members. And although the bill increases the amount of time that Members and senior executive branch officials are prohibited from making lobbying contacts and conducting lobbying activities from 1 to 2 years, it does include organizing and directing a lobbying campaign in the prohibited activities. Thus, a former Member or senior executive branch official cannot make contact directly, but they can direct partners or employees in a lobbying strategy. The bill does not include any restrictions on lobbyists soliciting and organizing fundraisers or serving as treasurers on officeholder committees, nor does it prohibit special interest groups from paying for and organizing congressional travel junkets.
These are serious problems with this lobbying reform legislation. It simply does not go far enough to have a real impact on the way business is done in Washington. And, frankly, it is not surprising given the limited amount of floor debate we had on the bill and the number of important amendments that were never offered or debated because we were rushed to a cloture vote. I am disappointed that we could not take advantage of this unique moment in history and enact serious lobbying reform. I am voting against this package because the American people deserve a strong reform bill and this does not meet that test.