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Public Statements

Letter To Senators Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, Dianne Feinstein, Robert Bennett, Joseph Lieberman, and Susan Collins

U.S. Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Barack Obama (D-IL) are pushing for Congress to produce the strongest ethics and lobby reform bill possible. Feingold and Obama are urging several Senate leaders, who will play important roles in the bill's fate as the Senate prepares to negotiate the final bill with the House of Representatives, to include several key provisions that passed the Senate but were left out of the House version of the bill. Feingold and Obama were two of the main architects of the Senate bill which passed in January with broad bipartisan support. Senate Majority Leader Reid hailed the bill as one of the most significant pieces of legislation dealing with ethics and lobbying reform in our nation's history. Also signing the letter were all of the freshmen Democratic Senators including Senators Brown (D-OH), Cardin (D-MD), Casey (D-PA), Klobuchar (D-MN), McCaskill (D-MO), Sanders (I-VT), Tester (D-MT), Webb (D-VA), and Whitehouse (D-RI), who made cleaning up Washington crucial parts of their successful campaigns.

"The public voted for change last November in part because people were sick and tired of the way Washington works," Feingold said. "Without provisions like a strong lobbyist gift ban, and tough restrictions on privately funded travel and corporate jet flights, the bill won't do enough to change the status quo in Washington."

"Last November, the American people sent a message to Washington to clean up its act, so it's important that Congress take tough action on lobbying and ethics reform," said Senator Obama. "Since donors are now limited in the amount of money they can contribute to candidates, the greatest measure of influence is how much an individual raises. The final ethics bill must require that candidates disclose those who have bundled contributions for their campaigns, so that we can expose the link between lobbyists who are raising campaign cash in exchange for votes on legislation and start changing the way Washington works."

The text of the letter reads:

June 21, 2007

The Honorable Harry Reid
Majority Leader

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Minority Leader

The Honorable Dianne Feinstein
Chairman
Committee on Rules and Administration

The Honorable Robert Bennett
Ranking Member
Committee on Rules and Administration

The Honorable Joseph Lieberman
Chairman
Committee on Homeland Security & Government Affairs

The Honorable Susan Collins
Ranking Member
Committee on Homeland Security & Government Affairs

Dear Senators Reid, McConnell, Feinstein, Bennett, Lieberman, and Collins,

At the beginning of the 110th Congress, the Senate worked diligently in a bipartisan fashion to pass a strong lobbying and ethics reform bill aimed at changing the culture of political Washington. That bill, known as S. 1, included several provisions that we view as vital. We urge you to ensure that the Senate conferees on S. 1 champion these Senate-passed provisions and seek to include them in the final bill brought back to the Senate floor.

In particular, we believe that the following provisions must be included in the final bill if the Congress is to fulfill its promise to deliver to the American people a lobbying and ethics reform measure that constitutes real reform and will lead to real change.

* A strong lobbyist gift ban - The Senate bill includes a modification to the Senate Rules to prohibit lobbyists and organizations that employ or retain lobbyists from giving gifts, including free meals and tickets, to members of Congress and their staffs. This provision must not be weakened.
* Restrictions on corporate jet flights - The Senate bill requires Senators to pay the charter rate when flying on corporate jets for personal, campaign, or official purposes. All components of this provision must be retained. The changes to the Federal Election Campaign Act included in the Senate bill, but not the House bill, are essential so that incumbents and challengers in congressional races are treated equally.
* Disclosure of political contributions and bundling by lobbyists - With gifts banned, the Senate bill requires disclosure of the various ways that lobbyists can legally provide financial assistance to elected officials. This includes contributions to campaign committees, lawmaker's charities or entities designated by a lawmaker, Presidential libraries, inaugural committees, and events to honor or educate elected officials. To make sure the public has a complete picture of the financial ties between legislators and lobbyists, the provision requiring disclosure of participation in fundraising events and of contributions collected or arranged for lawmakers must also be included.
* Revolving door amendments - Current revolving door restrictions have proven ineffective in preventing members of Congress from profiting on their public service and gaining undue lobbying access to their former colleagues. The Senate bill increases the "cooling off period" for members of Congress from one year to two years. (By contrast, the House bill does not change the current cooling off period.) The Senate bill also expands the activities that former members must refrain from during that period. Finally, senior staff are prohibited for one year from making lobbying contacts with the entire house of Congress for which they worked, instead of just the employing office. All three of these components are important to restoring public confidence in Congress and should be included in the conference report.
* Limits on privately funded travel - Following the lead of the House, which significantly changed its travel rules in January, the Senate bill includes provisions designed to ensure that lobbyists and organizations that employ lobbyists do not pay for multi-day trips that the public often sees as boondoggles. The Senate bill permits legitimate educational trips paid for by groups that do not lobby and one day trips to give speeches or attend events related to official business. Elaborate trips were central to the Jack Abramoff scandal, and these new rules must not be weakened in conference.
* Lavish convention parties - The Senate bill contains a rule change that prohibits Senators from attending events held in their honor and paid for by lobbyists or entities that employ or retain lobbyists at the national party conventions. These events have come to symbolize both the excess and the access of some lobbyist-lawmaker relationships. This provision should be included in the conference report.
* Greater transparency in the legislative process - The Senate bill contains a number of provisions to open the legislative process to greater public scrutiny and understanding, including ending the practice of secret Senate holds, making conference reports available on the Internet at least 48 hours before voting on them, providing a 60 vote point of order against conference report items outside the scope of the conference, prohibiting "dead of night" additions to conference reports, and earmark reforms. These provisions must be retained in the final bill.

We believe that a strong lobbying and ethics reform bill can help change the way politics is conducted and policy is pursued in Washington, thereby increasing public confidence in Congress. The Senate's work in January gave the public hope that real reform could actually occur on a bipartisan basis. We strongly urge you to make sure that those hopes aren't dashed in this last stage of the legislative process. We look forward to working with you to pass a final bill of which the Senate, and the public, can be proud.

Sincerely,

Russ Feingold (D-WI)
Barack Obama (D-IL)
Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Ben Cardin (D-MD)
Bob Casey (D-PA)
Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Jon Tester (D-MT)
Jim Webb (D-VA)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)


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