HEARING OF THE SENATE RULES AND ADMINISTRATION COMMITTEE
SUBJECT: PROCEDURES TO MAKE THE LEGISLATIVE PROCESS MORE TRANSPARENT
CHAIRED BY: SENATOR TRENT LOTT (R-MS)
WITNESSES PANEL I: SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ); SENATOR RUSSELL FEINGOLD (D-WI); SENATOR NORM COLEMAN (R-MN); SENATOR BARACK OBAMA (D-IL); PANEL II: JAMES A. THURBER, CENTER FOR CONGRESSIONAL AND PRESIDENTIAL STUDIES; FRED WERTHEIMER, DEMOCRACY 21; AL SWIFT, COLLINGS MURPHY SWIFT HYNES, LLC.; BOB HYNES, COLLINGS MURPHY SWIFT HYNES, LLC.
SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS): Well, we got the moment we came to see.
So if the witnesses will behave themselves and restrain themselves we will proceed with our hearing this afternoon. Thank you very much to the first hearing of the year of the Rules Committee. The purpose of this hearing today is to discuss a number of the pieces of legislation and the ideas that have been presented with regard to transparency in the legislative process and also other issues relating to the rules of the Senate or ethics of the Senate.
A lot of the legislation that is being discussed these days is just referred to as lobbying reform. The truth of the matter is they quite often have areas that are not really in the lobbying area, they involve the rules and the precedents and the ethics of the Senate. So this hearing is to look at those issues that fall under our jurisdiction. The lobby reform part of it will be under the jurisdiction of Government Affairs and Homeland Security Committee. They've already been having hearings and they will move to markup at some point. This is our first hearing and it may be our only hearing before we actually look to markup too.
I've had a few things to say about all this, just like Senator McCain and Senator Feingold and Senator Obama, and mine has been almost as inflammatory sometimes, but I really do believe that this hearing is an important one and this effort that we're involved in is timely. There are some things we can do, should do, maybe should have already done, and be fair to all concerned at the same time.
So I want to make it clear that I do think that there are some ideas that we should put in the form of legislation, have a markup, have amendments, report a bill, take it to the floor of the Senate when the leadership is prepared do to so and have a full discussion and take some actions.
I obviously have been concerned about the situation with regard to earmarks. There has been an explosion. They are done sometimes in ways that concern me and others. I've talked to a number of senators about this over the years, including Senator Stevens and Senator McCain and Senator Feingold and others. I do think there's some ways that we can significantly improve transparency, identify where these projects come from, what they're for, who's seeking them, how much money is involved, but also make sure that we protect the institution's ability to on occasion be able to get at some of these projects, particularly if they're done in a conference report not having been considered by either the House or the Senate.
So I'm very honored that Senator Feinstein and Senator Hagel have joined me in introducing a proposal in this area. It may not be perfect, we may need to work on it obviously as we go forward, but that's sort of a starting point in this area. There are a lot of other changes that have been suggested that I think are not practical or are going to be very difficult to put in legislative language and I'll be interested in hearing what the witnesses have to say about that. I do think that if we're going to get into this area it would be pretty hard not to deal with the so-called 527s and I'd be interested in knowing how the witnesses feel about that. Sooner or later we're going to have to do that. If we don't, both parties, members in both parties are going to be embarrassed. The question is what is the best way and when to do it.
So that's the purpose of the hearing today. I've had a long discussion about how we proceed with my ranking member, Senator Dodd, who's now here, and we're going to work together to see if we can have an appropriate hearing and then have a markup and produce some legislation that is positive.
Before I call on the witnesses, let me yield for any opening statement he would like to make at this time to Senator Dodd.
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D-CT): Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I apologize to our witnesses in racing over here from our conference lunches and it's good to see a strong turnout here today. And I welcome my colleagues who are here. Let me just make if I could just a couple of brief opening statements and then we'll get to our witnesses if I might.
Mr. Chairman, first of all thank you for calling this hearing to explore ways in which to make the legislative process fair and more transparent, something I think all of us I hope care about. Over the years of course reforms have improved the way that Congress operates including the honoraria ban, conflict of interest rules, earned income limits, lobbying disclosure laws, the McCain-Feingold law -- two of our colleagues who are here today who authored that legislation. I was proud to be the floor manager at that time when that legislation was enacted in law -- and others.
Real reform of course coupled with enforcement does work and I think that Congress over the years, going back actually to the 19th century has proven that to be the case. Regulating the relationships between lawmakers and lobbyists is not new. In 1876 the House tried to require lobbyists to register but enforcement was weak, to put it mildly. In the early 1930s Congress held hearings on lobbying abuses, with little result I might add. In 1938 the Foreign Agents Registration Act was enacted followed by the 1946 Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act, the scope of the Supreme Court's narrowed. And then the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 and the new Senate gift and travel rules that followed.
I offer this, Mr. Chairman, as a context and underscore that reform is an organic process, in my view, not an event. It is appropriate to further explore the need to reform existing lobbying laws obviously, gift rules, earmarking and other procedures in light of recent scandals.
A number of very thoughtful reforms have been proposed in this committee along with the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs are reviewing it. And I welcome the opportunity that we're going to have here to be involved in that process.
The Democratic leader, Senator Reid, has introduced a reform bill cosponsored by virtually all members of the Democratic Caucus, and I would hope the majority leader will work with us to bring a comprehensive bipartisan bill to the floor as soon as possible. I stand ready certainly to work with the chairman of this committee to expedite that process.
But I would also call to this committee's attention and to the Congress to address what may be the elephant in the room, so to speak, and that is comprehensive reform of the way we organize and finance campaigns. It is not the $20 lunch in my view that buys access and influence for lobbyists in Washington, it is the $2,000 per election campaign contribution that is a far more serious problem in my view. Lobbying and gift reforms are important, I don't underestimate them, but while it is clear serious reform of the way some in Congress and their lobbying allies do business is needed, these changes along, in my view, won't address the more fundamental problem and that is the need for campaign finance reform which breaks the link between the legislative favor seekers and the free flow of inadequately regulated special interest private money.
This is a much more central issue in many ways than lobbying, gift and travel rules or procedural reform. It is an issue on which I intend to focus if I may in the coming weeks. On our side I expect a coordinated effort to press forward with campaign finance reform legislation, including reform of the presidential system and proposals for public financing of congressional races. As my colleagues know, under current Supreme Court precedents, including the famous decision in Buckley v. Valeo, comprehensive reform can be accomplished either through full or partial public finance in return for a voluntary agreement by candidates to abide by spending limits. Failing that, an amendment to the Constitution to enable Congress and the states to impose mandatory spending limits is needed.
My preferred approach would be a comprehensive reform to include a combination of public funding, free or reduced media time, and spending limits. I'm equally committed to seeing Congress act to respond to the lobbying scandals of recent months and to comprehensively address the role of special interest and lobbying money in campaigns.
But I believe we must move these reforms on separate and independent tracks. Real campaign finance reform is more complex than reform of lobbying rules. We must not slow lobbying reform by tacking on unrelated campaign finance measures which many on both sides would see as a poison pill. Real campaign finance reform must also address the urgent need to renew and repair our presidential public funding system which has served Democratic and Republican candidates and all Americans for the past 25 years. Some us have pressed for comprehensive reform for years. Current scandals offer a once in a generation opportunity to address this issue in ways which both meet public demands for reform and the tests laid out by the Supreme Court in the Buckley decision.
The American public is way ahead of us on this issue. Too many believe the interests of average voters are usurped by the money and influence of lobbyists, powerful individuals, corporations and interest groups. Too many believe their voices go unheard, drowned out by the din of special interest favor seekers. Our system derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed, something we all appreciate on this side of the dais. That is put to risk if the governed lose faith in the system's fundamental fairness and its capacity to respond to the most basic needs of our society because narrow special interests hold sway over the public interest.
Nowhere is the need for reform more urgent than in campaign financing. Most Americans would agree that the price of funding campaigns with clean money, disinterested money if you will, is a small price to pay to restore confidence in our system. Comprehensive campaign finance reform along with reforms to address the recent lobbying scandals is necessary to return control of the process to the people to whom it belongs. That is what government of the people by the people and for the people means, in my view.
I certainly welcome our colleagues' participation this afternoon. I look forward to working with the chairman over the coming days to see if we can't put together a bill that touches on these points. Mr. Chairman, I thank you.
SEN. LOTT: Thank you very much, Senator Dodd.
Senator Stevens, thank you very much for being here and being here on time. Do you have any opening statement at this time?
SEN. TED STEVENS (R-AK): No, I have a conflicting hearing at 2:30. I just came by to listen to our colleagues.
SEN. LOTT: Well, we'll try to get to them very soon.
SEN. STEVENS: (Off mike.)
SEN. LOTT: Well, Senator Santorum, you've done a lot of work in this area. You've been very aggressive and thoughtful in trying to pull together different senators and different ideas and you've got a package of proposals that I think are very attractive. Would you like to make an opening statement at this point?
SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R-PA): Well, I won't give a long opening statement. I just want to say thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing. The areas that are being reviewed by I think both leaders task force, if you will, and an attempt by Senator McCain and myself, Senator Lieberman and others to try to find some common ground between those packages are very much related to the jurisdiction of this committee, both in the area of gifts, travel, earmarks, floor access of members and family members of that -- former members of the United States Senate, past any kind of employment restrictions for former staff as well as members, and obviously the 527 issue which we have already dealt with on this committee.
So this is an important jurisdictional area, it's important that you have this hearing, and that we try to air these very important issues out to the general public and hopefully, as I've looked at all the proposals I think -- hopefully we'll hear this from the panel here, there's a lot more that we agree on than we disagree on and there's a lot of common g round here. There's a lot of areas where I think we can move forward and act and put something in place that will restore public confidence to this institution. And I'm hopeful that we will do it in civil way, we'll do it with a civil tone, and we'll do it in a bipartisan way and I would hope that we not only try to address the problems that folks who have broken the law and who have abused the system, but we try to also restore some of the comity that we've lost in that process.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. LOTT: Thank you, Senator Santorum.
Senator Hagel, do you have an opening statement you would like to make?
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE): Mr. Chairman, I do have an opening statement which I would ask to be inserted in the record -- SEN. LOTT: Without objection it will be put in the record.
SEN. HAGEL: Thank you.
SEN. LOTT: Any other senator wish to speak before we go to our panel of witnesses?
I've already recognized you, Senator Feinstein, for your contribution in helping develop the rule change that we have with regard to earmarks and we'll talk more about that in a moment.
So thank you all very much for being here. Let's go to our panel and of course our first panel is a panel of distinguished senators that have been working in this area, some of them for years and some of them on behalf of leadership designation. By consent of the other panel members we're going to go with Senator Feingold first because he has another committee at 2:30. Senator Coleman is scheduled to be here at 2:20 I believe so if we could we'll go with Senator Feingold, then Senator McCain, then the other two, Senator Obama and Coleman when he arrives.
Senator Feingold, we'd be glad to hear from you.
SEN. RUSSELL FEINGOLD (D-WI): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Senator Dodd, for inviting me to testify. And thanks to you and my friend Senator McCain for letting me go first so I can go to my other hearing.
Mr. Chairman, Jack Abramoff's guilty plea inspired immediate promises that Congress would act on lobbying reform and it certainly seemed like we were on a fast track to get something done. I still have high hopes that that can happen but I must say the last few weeks have not been encouraging in some ways. Already we are hearing the sound of furious backpedaling in the corridors of power. People even seem to be having doubts about something that a few weeks ago seemed like a done deal -- a ban on privately funded travel. Even though the speaker of the House announced that his proposal will include that reform, the newly elected House majority leader feels differently. He suggested this weekend that what we need is, quote, "More transparency with what members are doing on these trips" unquote, and then we can, quote, "let the public decide" unquote.
I submit, Mr. Chairman, that the public has already decided. They decided years ago. They didn't like these trips even before Jack Abramoff showed how they are being used, and they don't even know the half of it. My staff actually keeps a file of invitations for fact finding trips for staff. Here are a few of the best ones from over the years.
A legislative issue seminar in St. Michaels Island sponsored by the MCI WorldCom with dinner at the inn at Perry Cavern (ph). A trip to Silicon Valley sponsored by the Information Technology Industry Council with a dinner sponsored by the Wine Institute. A, quote, "Congressional field trip," unquote sponsored by DTE to Tampa and Clearwater Beach. And the invitation reads, quote, "To take advantage of the terrific location besides Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. We'll demonstrate that you can place a cellular call over water, either while dining aboard a boat or fishing for that night's dinner."
Mr. Chairman, enough. If members of Congress can't justify spending taxpayer money to do a fact finding trip they shouldn't go, and neither should their staff.
Let's just talk for a second about gifts. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that members of Congress' votes can be purchased for a free meal or two, but I think we also know that lobbyists aren't usually buying these meals out of the goodness of their hearts. At this point no reform bill is going to be credible that does not contain a strict lobbyist gift ban. And no one has ever explained to me why members of Congress need to be allowed to accept free meals, tickets or any other gift from a lobbyist. If you really want to have dinner with a lobbyist, no one is saying you can't. You just take out your credit card and you pay your own way.
I can tell my colleagues from my personal experience that you will survive just fine under a no gifts policy. The Wisconsin Legislature has had such a policy for decades and I brought it here with me to Washington. I do not go hungry and I even get to play golf once in a while.
Let me mention a few other things. Corporate jets. I think many in Congress are coming around to where the public is, and that is that corporate jet travel is a real abuse. Sure it's convenient, but if it's based on the fiction that the fair market value of such a trip is just the cost of a first class ticket. And when that fiction is applied to political travel, it creates a loophole in the ban in corporate contributions that we've had in this country for over a century. Any legislation on corporate jets must include campaign trips because one thing is certain, the lobbyist for the company that provides the jet is going to be on the flight, whether it's taking you to see a factory back home or to a fundraiser for your campaign..
Finally, Mr. Chairman, I just want to mention again -- remind you about S.1508 which my friend John McCain and I introduced along with Senator Cochran that is pending before this committee. It's a commonsense bill that would simply require electronic filing of Senate campaign committee reports. House reports are already filed electronically and many Senate campaigns are doing it voluntarily. It's long past time for this so I think this would be very appropriate to include and should be included in the lobbying and ethics reform package.
Mr. Chairman, there are many things that can be done to improve the transparency of the legislative process and address the issues raised by the Abramoff scandal. But don't let people change the subject from the important ethics reforms that I have tried to raise here today. Our constituents will not accept weak tea, they want a strong brew, and they want it soon.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. LOTT: Thank you, Senator Feingold.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and let me begin by commending you and members of this committee, including Senator Feinstein and Senator Santorum and others for being involved in this effort.
Mr. Chairman, I testified before this committee in 2003 with a similar rules change and I am back here again. And tomorrow I and Senators Feingold, Coburn, Bayh, Sununu, Graham, Ensign , DeMint and Kyl will be introducing earmarking legislation which we think is important.
Mr. Chairman, we can reform all the lobbying we want, but until we cure this problem right here, we aren't going to fix the system. This is the trend in earmarked funds. This is the amount of money since 1994. Obviously I chose 1994 as the year with which our Republican party took control of Congress. That is out of control spending, Mr. Chairman, and it's got to stop.
I am pleased to join with Senator Obama and with Senator Santorum and Senator Lieberman and Senator Pryor and other members in working on the effort for lobbying reform. I might add for the benefit of our friends, Senator Obama and I are moving on and will continue to work together and I value his input.
But let me say, Mr. Chairman, we've got to fix this problem. The American people are holding us in very low esteem because of the way that we do business here in Washington and ultimately we are responsible to the American people, and unless we react to their views of us, the consequences are obvious.
This bill would establish new procedure under rule 16, modeled after the Byrd (ph) rule which would allow a 60 vote point of order to be raised against specific provisions that contain unauthorized appropriations including earmarks as well as unauthorized policy changes in appropriations bills and conference reports. Of importance is that successful points of order would not kill a conference report but the targeted provisions would be deemed removed from the conference report and the measure would be sent back for concurrence in the House.
To ensure that members are given enough time to review appropriations bills, our proposal would require that conference reports be available at least 48 hours prior to floor consideration. It prohibits the consideration of a conference report if it includes matters outside the scope of the conference. The bill includes provisions of another bill to prohibit federal agencies from obligating for appropriations earmarks included only in congressional reports which are un-amendable.
To promote transparency the bill requires any earmarks included in a bill be disclosed fully in the bill's accompanying report along with the name of the member who requested the earmark and its essential governmental purpose. Additionally the bill would require recipients of federal dollars to disclose any amounts that the recipient expends on registered lobbyists.
In summary, the proposed change, if adopted, would allow any member to raise a point of order in an effort to extract objectionable unauthorized provisions from the appropriations process. Our goal is to reform the current system by empowering all members with a tool to rid appropriations bills of unauthorized funds, pork barrel projects and legislative policy writers and to provide greater public disclosure of the legislative process.
And again I want to congratulate you and Senator Feinstein and the effort that you're making.
We look forward to working with you. Very briefly, Mr. Chairman, last year's appropriations bill 2006, $900,000 on the Department of Defense, $900,000 for Memorial Day, $4.4 million for a technology center in Missouri, $2 million for a public park in San Francisco -- the list goes on and on. But I also want to point out one other thing that's almost as egregious. I can count up the amount of money, Mr. Chairman, that is in earmarks when there are policy changes such as preventing the turnover of analogue spectrum to the government that we own that could be worth at least $10 billion to be auctioned off. When a provision is put into a Defense appropriations bill that requires the purchase of Boeing tankers and the only way we stopped that was by me asserting or the stretch -- the jurisdiction of the Commerce Committee and people have gone to jail and it would have cost the taxpayers an additional $7 billion. There's no way you can calculate that when you see a policy change on an appropriations bill.
So I could go on and on with what the abuses that have been done. We're aware of it and more importantly the American people are aware of it. One of the best things that's ever happened in the United States of America was when the bridge to nowhere appeared on the front of Parade that is in many Americans' homes on Sunday morning.
I'd just like to close with a quote from Dwight David Eisenhower, and he said in his farewell address, "As we peer into society's future, we -- you and I and our government -- must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow."
I hope we can change. I wonder what President Eisenhower would think of this mess. But then perhaps, Mr. Chairman, others have contemplated the same question. After all, the Defense appropriations bill we passed in December included a $1.7 million earmark for memorial on the National Mall that would honor -- guess who -- Dwight David Eisenhower.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. LOTT: Senator McCain, would you able to stay for a couple of questions?
SEN. McCAIN: Yes, sir.
SEN. LOTT: Thank you very much.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): Thank you very much, Chairman Lott, Senator Dodd. Thank you to all the members of the committee. I very much appreciate the presence here of my colleagues who are working I think diligently on trying to get something happening. I'm particularly pleased to be sharing this panel with my penpal John McCain -- (laughter) -- and look forward to working with him on what I think will be some very important work.
I'm here to testify about three pieces of legislation that I've played a role in drafting that I believe are worth serious consideration by this committee. Since the very first time I spoke out on lobbying reform I have said over and over what I still believe to be true today. That while some are clearly to blame for the corruption that has plagued Washington, all of us -- Democrats and Republicans -- are responsible for cleaning it up. That's why I hope to work in a bipartisan manner on reform and that's what I hope this legislation can provide a foundation for.
The first bill is the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act which already has the support of 41 members of the Senate. The bill takes a number of significant steps to fundamentally change the way we do business in Washington. First, it would lengthen the cooling off period to two years for lawmakers and staff who seek to become lobbyists and it would require immediate disclosure as soon as any job negotiations begin. This would end the stories we've been hearing about working on a prescription drug bill during the day when you're talking about a future salary with the drug industry at night.
Second, the bill would open conference committee meetings to the public and require that all bills be posted on the Internet for 24 hours before they're voted on so the public can scrutinize them to prevent special interest provisions from being slipped in during the dead of night.
Third, the bill would end all lobbyist funded gifts, meals and travel, and strengthen the Senate office that monitors lobbying disclosure forms. If enacted, this bill would go a long way towards ending the cozy relationship between lawmakers and lobbyists. But I think we can take some additional steps which is why I'm introducing two more bills today.
The first deals with enforcement. Last week I had conversations with some of the key reform groups in town and they made a point that I think has been echoed all across the country -- we can pass all the new ethics rules in the world but if we don't establish a body that can monitor and enforce those rules it will be very easy to break them. And that's why this bill calls for a nonpartisan, independent Congressional Ethics Enforcement Commission. This commission would be staffed with former judges and former members of Congress and it would allow any citizen to report a possible ethics by lawmakers, staff or lobbyists.
The commission would have the authority to conduct investigations, issue subpoenas and provide public reports to the Senate Ethics Committee or Department of Justice so that any wrongdoing can be punished accordingly. Now, to prevent this commission from being manipulated for partisan political purposes, which I know all of us I think would be legitimately concerned with, the bill establishes stiff sanctions for the filing of frivolous complaints and prohibits the filing of complaints three months before an election.
This proposal, by the way, is modeled after similar commissions in Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee, all of which have worked very well. Kentucky in particular has had a wonderful experience in moving a system forward of this fashion. I believe it's a good model for how to reform our ethics process in Congress and I'm pleased that the bill is supported by common cause.
Ornstein, at the American Enterprise Institute, who is an expert on the workings of Congress has had this to say about the Enforcement Bill: "This approach to ethics enforcement is just the kind of balance and reasonable alternative we need. Enforcement of ethics in Congress means independence and credibility to all but cannot become either a vehicle for the criminalization of policy differences or an avenging angel like the Independent Counsel Statute created. This commission would have people on it of integrity and institutional sensitivity and can serve to educate members and their staff about ethical behavior and performance while also providing credible and vigorous ethical standards. It deserves strong bipartisan support."
I'm also introducing a second bill today that would bring greater transparency to earmarks so we can save taxpayer dollars and end the special interest abuses of this process. This is an area that many of our colleagues are interested in reforming. Obviously you already heard from Senator McCain who has shown great leadership on this issue. He is working with Senator Coburn.
Chairman Lott, I know that you working with Senator Feinstein have introduced legislation as well. My sense is this is an area in which we should be able to move forward quickly. The bill I'm proposing today builds on the earmark provisions in the Cleanup Act that I introduced last month with eight senators and includes language from a proposal from Representative Obey. It would require that information by all earmarks including name of lawmaker who requested it and justification of why they wanted it be disclosed 72 hours before it is considered by the full Senate, it would also place some common sense limits on earmarks, members would be prohibited from advocating for an earmark if they have a financial interest, earmarks could not be used to secure promises, and so forth.
Now, I don't think these earmark reforms would solve everything problem, but the idea is this: I think if you're proud enough about an earmark to issue a press release about it, then you should be able to defend it in public. So I hope that this committee will take into consideration these proposals. I very much appreciate your time, Chairman, as well as ranking member Dodd. I'm happy to answer any questions you may have and I'm looking forward to working with all of you.
SEN. LOTT: Thank you very much, Senator Obama, for your testimony.
SEN. NORM COLEMAN (R-MN): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me first begin by thanking you and the ranking member for having this hearing and for your focus on transparency. I think that goes to the heart of what we're talking about. I have some formal comments, Mr. Chairman. I'd like them entered into the record as a whole and I just want to speak off the cuff about two things. One is a couple of weeks ago Senator Nelson, myself, Senators Allard, Coburn, Enzi, Thomas and Burns introduced a legislation that creates a bipartisan commission to strengthen confidence in Congress, to do some of the things that Senator Obama's commission is talking about and some other things.
Here is what concerns me. There are a lot of proposals out on the table. I support Senator McCain and -- cosponsor Senator McCain, Senator Lieberman's legislation. legislation. There is a sense in America that we have to do something. My concern is this. Churchill once admonished military commanders if they faced two potential dangers: one, inaction because they were too timid; and secondly, over-commitment because they were too rash. I'm not sure what we're going to get done. We're going to get some things done.
Clearly we have a problem with earmarks, but earmarks themselves, as we all know, are not the problem; not earmarks. It's the process of earmarks. I've been involved in not many earmarks, but I met with my university folks this week and there's some earmarks they really want. I was able to get one little earmark for some work on Duchenne's muscular dystrophy. If your kid has Duchenne's muscular dystrophy he's going to die. He's going to die. We know when he's going to die. And the ability to put in some money and things where we can make a difference, that's a good thing. It's the process though by which you get there, it's the process of transparency, it's the ability to defend it on the floor of the Senate and not done in the middle of the night and not done because it's favors. But there is this question about process.
And I just reflected on Senator McCain's comment about Eisenhower: democracy to flourish for all generations to come. Well, the only way it's going to flourish for all generations to come is if we have in place a body that is an independent body; that is, the ability to look at these things on an ongoing basis. It can't simply be that we -- we had Abramoff, we had the scandal, we put some bills together, we had some great things in those bills, important things to be done. But I think the American public deserves to know that we have an ongoing commitment to reform. And the independent commission that Senator Nelson and I have put together with the support of other colleagues I think provides a vehicle to make sure that we're not too timid and we're not acting rashly, that we're doing the right thing and doing it on a sustained basis.
So let us move on many of the proposals, proposals of my colleague Senator Lieberman, the proposals of the chair, Senator Feinstein and others, but let us also have in place an ability to show a long-term sustained independent commitment to the issue of reform. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. LOTT: Thank you very much, Senator Coleman, and for your brevity, and if you have a prepared statement we'll be pleased to include that in the record without any objection.
I want to give other senators a chance to ask questions, but Senator McCain, let me ask you in particular, do you include in your legislation and/or do you think we should address, not only the appropriations side of this equation, putting in financial dollar earmarks in appropriations bills or language in appropriations bills, do you think it should also be applicable to finance committee bills, tax bills, authorization bills like for instance the Transportation Bill that we passed last year? So the question is, do you think it ought to apply that broadly and do you have that in your bill?
SEN. McCAIN: I do think it probably should apply broadly, Mr. Chairman, and I think that there are problems in those areas. I think the biggest problems are the ones we identified today, but there's no doubt that there are particularly in Finance Committee bills, perhaps less understanding of the legislation than appropriations bills. We can figure out the appropriations bills after several weeks or months. Sometimes we never figure out what comes out of the changes to the tax code.
SEN. LOTT: As a member of the Finance Committee that is our intent, of course.
SEN. McCAIN: Your point is very well made, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. LOTT: The language or phrase in a tax bill can appear to be extremely innocent, but can mean billions of dollars, so Senator Feinstein and I do have -- and we intend to make it applicable across the board. Ours is in terms of the points of order more restricted I think than yours, but I think there's plenty of room for us to be able to reach agreement here. Let me just yield to others because I don't want to take up all the time. Senator Dodd, let me yield to you.
SEN. DODD: Thanks, Mr. Chairman. First let me commend both you and Senator Feinstein because I think your approach makes some sense. The frustration has been I think with those of us not on the Appropriations Committee or the Finance Committee or others. And I asked John whether I should have done some analysis of this as we go through and look at these numbers. My suspicions would be that the, quote, "violation" of the earmark approach has occurred probably more frequently with members of the Appropriations Committee or members of the leadership. I don't recall. I've certainly -- when the process for those who wonder how this works -- I guess maybe delegations are different.
But Senator Lieberman and I from Connecticut, we usually sit down, we've had our mayors come in, our various institutions, they come in, they talk to us. We sit down and go over what ones we think have value and merit so we're not duplicating each other's efforts. And the we talk to members of the Appropriations Committee, usually the respective chairman or ranking member of a specific subcommittee, and make a request about the University of Connecticut, the city of Bridgeport, the city of Newhaven, wherever it may be. We haven't issued press releases, and my experience in the past when we've made the request -- although certainly I think in most cases we feel it's something to be proud of to make requests of -- and then we usually certainly have a press release that goes out afterwards if in fact it's been incorporated as part of the legislation. I'm curious as to whether or not there is some evaluation as to where these earmarks being are dropped in in the conference, not a part of the appropriations normal process are occurring.
And secondly, I've been told as late as this afternoon, lunch, that as a percentage of the overall appropriations process that earmarks, while they've gone up numerically as you've identified in the graph here, that in fact as an overall percentage it's somewhere about 1 percent or less than 2 percent of the overall appropriation of bills. So while their numbers numerically are moving up, as a factor of the total amount that's being appropriated, it's relatively a small percentage of the overall appropriations.
And thirdly, and I ask you to comment on this as well. The frustration is then that for those of us who don't serve on Appropriations Committees or if you're in the minority too often we find that even stuff that you may request to get authorized, there's very little attention sometimes gets paid by various governmental agencies when requests go through an otherwise process if the earmarks didn't exist.
So while I don't disagree with you and I strongly support what Senator Lott and Senator Feinstein are suggesting by requiring a 60 vote point of order without bringing down the entire bill. And under existing law -- so my colleagues are aware, under existing law if a point of order were raised against a conference report because of an earmark or an unauthorized provision included, that point of order, if prevailed, would bring down the entire report. What Senator Lott and Senator Feinstein are suggesting is a point of order that would deal specifically with just that earmark which I think is a reform that's long overdue and I applaud them for that suggestion. Those are the observations I've made here and if you have some facts that would support the conclusions.
SEN. McCAIN: I'd be glad to and I will try to be brief. First of all, it may be only 1 or 2 percent, $47 billion is still not chump change. But I think more importantly this only lists the earmarked amounts of money. Where is it that we calculate the fact that we wrote into an appropriations bill that the analogue spectrum wouldn't be turned over until 85 percent of the homes in America had HDTV and the chairman of the FCC says that will never happen. And that spectrum was worth a minimum of $10 billion to the taxpayer.
How do you calculate when they say the Air Force will buy 767 tankers? It's just a line written in. And that's an $8 billion -- well, it was a $30 billion purchase and of which, if we had gone along with it, if we hadn't stopped it, it would have been $8 billion to the taxpayers than the actual cost should have been.
So when we write in policy changes in the appropriations bills, there's no way to calculate that. And I would imagine in many cases it would add to that figure rather dramatically. I think the second thing is the obvious here. Because everything goes on the appropriation -- you can't get that in the authorization bill, we got too many amendments on the authorization bill, well, just set the authorization bill aside. When's the last time your committee, the Foreign Relations Committee's bill has been authorized? Twenty years ago. And that's because, as you well know, we put all these riders no it and we get hung up on the floor. So we've always got the safe avenue of putting it on the appropriations bill. If we insisted that these not be on the appropriations bills, particularly policy changes, then we would get the authorization process done.
SEN. LOTT: But on that point --
SEN. McCAIN: Which was really the case for 200 years. Yes, sir.
SEN. LOTT: My point is I agree. You and I have talked a lot about this. I really think it's outrageous that we don't do more authorizing and oversight and so forth. Do you have a solution of how we get more of the committees to do their work and for authorizations bills to be considered on the floor?
SEN. McCAIN: Yes.
SEN. LOTT: I think you were just saying well, if we just don't authorization them in appropriations the pressure would be so great we'd eventually have to do it. But this is an area that worries me.
SEN. McCAIN: I think it should worry all of us because it makes the authorizing committees basically debating societies in good places for hearings like the Foreign Relations Committee and the Armed Services Committee, but the actual funding and actual policy making sometimes has to evolve by necessity onto the appropriators. If we make it tough on the appropriations process and now allow with ease these things being added, then that will put additional pressures to go back to the traditional way of doing business which is authorizing and then appropriating.
Look, I don't know the whole answer to this. A two year budget process which has been kicked around is another one of these ideas. But I would point out, Mr. Chairman and Senator Dodd, when we first came here it wasn't like this. It wasn't like this. We did authorizing, we did not allow -- if I may just not waste the time of the committee but nobody remembers better than Senator Lott, we had a chairman of the Appropriations Committee that was from his home state and every time he would mumble we would know that that was a pork barrel project from Mississippi. But that was an unusual thing. Ronald Reagan vetoed a highway bill with 152 projects on it. This one had 16,000. I mean, it's just grown and grown and grown to the point where it is -- it's certainly not something that we can sustain or go back to our constituents and say we're governing well.
SEN. DODD: Just a point -- existing law, or existing rules, I should say, of the Senate, absolutely prohibit a point of order (res ?) if someone includes an item in a conference report, whether it's an appropriations bill or an authorizing bill but particularly in appropriations, if it has not been authorized, rules require that a matter be authorized before it can be appropriated. That's existing rules.
SEN. McCAIN: That's true, and that's where the point of order comes in. We're not -- by our proposal we're not prohibiting earmarks, we're just trying to address them and eliminate as many as possible. But as you also know now, there's a practice where in your -- in the appropriations bill that comes out of either body, there's a reference to some -- just a reference, an oblique reference to some issue and then when they get to conference then you reference that oblique reference and say okay, now we'll add whatever necessary in appropriations for that purpose. It's very cleverly done. They have very intelligent staffers.
SEN. DODD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. LOTT: Senator Santorum.
SEN. SANTORUM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to talk about one particular area that has not come up in detail in the discussion so far and that's the issue of travel, because I know those of us who have been working on this, we've been getting a lot of pushback from members with respect to third party travel. And I just want to, for full disclosure, I'm at the bottom of the third party travel in the United States Senate. The only traveling I do is to and from my state and driving my kids all over the place. So that's why I don't travel very much so I want to get some perspectives on folks who do. And I've seen some of the testimony that's coming forward from my former colleague from Washington, Al Swift, who has made a pretty strong statement about not getting rid of third party travel, that it does benefit members to do so and I just want to get a sense from the three of you as to what you think is the best way to approach this issue.
SEN. COLEMAN: I'll jump in since I think I'm second most traveled person in the last three years. I think Senator Biden is first -- private travel. The local paper, Star Tribune, did an entire story -- two days of stories on my travel. Two observations. First, private travel is a good thing. If people know who's paying for it -- Aspen Institute is an organization -- many of us have participated in Aspen functions. They're good functions. It gets us one of the few times you get to operate in a bipartisan, bicameral way to discuss important policy issues. And I don't believe the taxpayers necessarily have to pay for that. When I was a mayor I really believed in public/private partnership. It was not a sin to work with the foundation community, to work with the business community, on good issues of public policy.
And so I think the answer is transparency. In my case, I put all my travel -- you go on to my website you can see every trip that I've taken, who paid for it and a description of what the organization is all about. And I believe I got less than 10 phone calls in a week about two huge stories about travel because my constituents would see --
SEN. SANTORUM: You're going to get some more right now, Norm.
SEN. COLEMAN: (Laughs.) Bottom line is I think the answer is transparency. I think we have to know who's doing it. But the idea of simply cutting out all private travel I think would hurt this institution. It wouldn't make us better senators. And so I feel strongly about that and again hope we do what this committee is looking at in terms of earmarks and transparency. Let people know what you're doing and who's paying for it.
SEN. OBAMA: I have gotten some pushback on this whole issue as well. Like you, Senator Santorum, I haven't actually been involved in a lot of private travel, but I've heard from people like Senator Coleman who share with me these stories. I think it's important to distinguish -- let's say it's traveling with a colleague on a fact finding mission that is clearly business and some of the stories Senator Feingold before he left was reading, all right, where you're going Boca Raton and you're going to be talking about important telecommunications issues while deep-sea fishing or golfing.
SEN. COLEMAN: I don't play golf, Mr. Chairman, I'd point that out.
SEN. OBAMA: And so my impression I guess is that this should be an area where we can institute some commonsense reforms. The way that the Democratic Leadership Bill that we've introduced tries to handle this is to distinguish between lobbyist paid travel and non-lobbyist paid travel, that if travel is sponsored by a 501(c)(3) that does not have a lobbyist on the trip, then that potentially could be permissible. There's some other guidelines for it.
I think what we absolutely have to eliminate though are junkets. And the one thing I would say about transparency, I have no doubt that Senator Coleman, that the trips he's taken have been substantive and that his constituents are pleased to see him taking those trips, but all of us are aware of the fact that disclosure and transparency doesn't always work. When Tom DeLay went to Scotland to play golf, that was under the aegis of a 501(c)(3) that sounded like it was educational and it didn't look like there were too many serious seminars taking place on that trip. So I think it's important for us to be able to distinguish those two things.
SEN. McCAIN: Very briefly, the problem obviously has arisen because of abuse, we all know that. Senator Santorum, you've been involved in children's issues. If Save The Children wanted to take you on a trip to Malawi to see where children are very badly in need of American help, no one in the world would have any problem with that. The problem is all travel seems to have been okay, so what we need is some kind of mechanism to ascertain where that travel is whether it's really legitimate or not. And the Ethics Committee in all candor is supposed be doing or does that now. Obviously not doing it satisfactorily.
So we've got to determine, and perhaps it's an appointment by the leaders of the Senate and the House of an individual with an office that screens these things and determines which are legitimate and which aren't, and also determines afterwards whether they were legitimate or not. That's what I think we need to kick around because I do believe that there are legitimate travel paid for by particularly NGOs that help people understand the problems of the world that bring our attention and our focus on them.
SEN. LOTT: Senator Santorum, do you wish to proceed?
SEN. SANTORUM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. LOTT: Let's see here. In order of arrival, alternating between the parties by seniority, Senator Nelson.
SEN. E. BENJAMIN NELSON (D-NE): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And I thank my colleague, Senator Coleman, for being here today to talk about the bill that we have introduced.
I think it's important to be on a fast track to get this resolved but it's equally important to be on the right track. And one of the things that occurs to me is in sorting this out it's important to have outside opinions looking at what we're proposing to do as well as our own internal review on the proposals. And we're talking about people who have had experience, prior, no longer sitting members of the House or Senate but former members of the House or Senate who have worked their way through and labored through the vineyards in the past have some idea of what works and what doesn't work, as well as what we should be doing. Shouldn't be lobbyists, they should be people who have good judgment.
So I think all these proposals are important but I also think that having additional review is important as well, to have the benefit of other opinions, whether they're academics or whether they're involved in other pursuits but they could have certain thoughts about it. So I'm hopeful that that would help us sort through as to what is appropriate travel and what isn't appropriate travel. I think it's important to have the Ethics Committee work as a clearing house on any of those questions that are close calls to work their way through it.
I think at the end of the day there should be some presumption that we want to do everything that's right back here, but I think the public would feel better if they know that there's a mechanism to have reviewed so we can pass the appropriate rules on, abide by them. I think there's also no doubt that the rules that were violated in some cases weren't bad rules but the violations were bad. And for a while I thought only in Washington would there be a reaction that I saw, and that is that when somebody violated the rule the first thought was to change the rule as opposed to push for enforcement, compliance, compliance enforcement and appropriate action that should be taken. So I hope that we do stay both on a fast track and on a right track.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. OBAMA: Mr. Chairman, could I just comment briefly on Senator Nelson's comment? I thought he made an important point. There are good rules on the books that have been violated and that's why, although it was not in the original Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, I pushed hard to include this as part of a package. The idea that we have an enforcement commission I think is absolutely critical. This is a problem and I think it's fair to say that over -- certainly on the House side, there hasn't been an active Ethics Committee investigating a lot of the problems that are now being investigated by federal prosecutors. There's got to be some interim step between complete inaction and federal prosecution because the truth is it's not frequent that you get somebody from the U.S. Attorneys Office who's going to be spending all their time looking into this stuff.
So I think it's very important for us to take a look at the commission. I understand that you and Senator Coleman are also proposing a broader commission to look at all these issues to sort them out. I think that's important, although I do think that there are some key areas that we've heard today it seems to me that, based on the conversations I've heard from Senator McCain and Senator Lott, Senator Feinstein, there is potential for agreement on earmarks. There's potential for agreement I think on gift bans. Senator Feingold said it pretty clearly. Since I've entered into politics in the state legislature, I've never accepted a meal from a lobbyist without reimbursing him. Usually I have not had problems. There have been occasional awkward situations where I'm part of a larger group, a lobbyist picks up the tab and suddenly it turns out somebody's ordered some fancy bottle of wine that I didn't drink and I've got to pay for it because it gets divided up pro rata. But for the most part it has not prevented me from doing my job.
And I think that those kinds of issues that are pretty straightforward go to the public trust, can be dealt with immediately. The true test of bipartisanship on this is not whether we pass a bill that appeals to the lowest common denominator that we can all agree on, it's whether we pass the strongest possible bill with the strongest reforms that can change the way we do business in Washington. I think that's what the American people are going to be watching for and that's what we owe them in the end.
SEN. NELSON: If I might respond to something that's been said and that is with respect to earmarks, clearly there are a variety of earmarks that are being talked about here. The earmarks that Senator Dodd talked about were his constituents, his community's command, they worked through them and they put them in place. And those that happened in the middle of the night behind closed that no one had any knowledge of or was -- no transparency whatsoever. And I would hope that a commission could sort through what would be more appropriate, what would be less appropriate as opposed to just simply categorizing them all the same -- because they're not all the same. They're not all the same.
Now, Senator McCain may have a different view of that, but it seems to me that the ones that we're most concerned about are those where there's no transparency, where it is done in a way that is almost intended, if not actually intended almost intended, to obscure how they occur. So I would like to see us sort through that and that's one of the reasons I thought the commission approach would help sort out some of those and maybe not everything that's done would be considered an earmark, or getting away from one person's pork becoming someone else's gristle. So what we need to do is I think spend the time necessary on that aspect particularly to get it right.
SEN. McCAIN: Well, there's one simple answer and that is to get it authorized. And that's the way we did business for more than 200 years.
SEN. LOTT: Thank you very much, Senator Nelson.
Senator Dayton, I believe you were next.
SEN. DAYTON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'm glad --
SEN. LOTT: I apologize.
SEN. DAYTON: You want to alternate, right. I don't want to switch parties so I'll let you --
SEN. LOTT: All right.
Senator Bennett, I apologize. Go ahead.
SEN. ROBERT F. BENNETT (R-UT): Thank you very much Mr. Chairman.
This has been a fascinating presentation and I thank you all. I have several reactions to it. This whole thing came up -- I keep realizing I did it backwards. I was a lobbyist first and a member later, and when I was a lobbyist, lobbyists didn't make more than members. And clearly that was the wrong financial track for me to follow.
I should have been smart enough to do it the other way around. I look around. I'm the senior appropriator here. Senator Feinstein and I, I think both went on the Appropriations Committee at the same time and Senator Durbin joined us shortly thereafter. While I haven't been here 200 years, I've been here long enough to see the process that Senator McCain describes unfold even in the last decade. When I first went on the Appropriations Committee, requests for policy earmarks were relatively few.
They have increased as the Senate has become a more contentious place and as the division in the Senate has been closer, so that the Senate's ability to get its job done has become more difficult, more and more leadership -- whether it's leadership of the committee or leadership of the Senate -- has come at the last stages of the appropriations process and said we can't get this done any other way so let's do it this way. And as it was done the first time in a vote emergency situation, and then the next year we had a precedent, and then the next year it had become fairly standard.
And I don't think there's a conspiracy behind it, I don't think anybody sat down and deliberately said this is how we're going to undermine the process. But it happened and it continues to happen and, frankly, it's a pain for the appropriators, at least for this appropriator. Senator Kohl and I when we took over the Agriculture Subcommittee made a pact that we would not put anything in the Appropriations Subcommittee Bill that was not approved by both the chairman and the ranking member of the appropriate authorizing committee. And it's wonderful, because people come to us with all kinds of weird things and I say well, have you cleared that with Senator Chambliss? Do I have to? Yeah. We won't put it in our bill unless it's cleared by the chairman and the ranking member -- that means Senator Harkin -- of the Agriculture Committee. And it saves us a lot of headaches.
But even that doesn't prevent problems being dropped on the appropriators that we don't want to handle. I'm so sick of country of original labeling arguments that have nothing to do with the appropriations process but that everybody wants us to fix because the authorizing committee has not done it. And I've said to Senator Chambliss this is the last year I'm doing this. If you want to fix COOL, you fix it in the authorizing committee because I'm tired of the abuse that I get from both sides as we have to deal with. But here once again, Senator Daschle approached me when he was here and said Senator, we want to talk to you about COOL. I said talk to the authorizing committee. Well, no, we can't deal with the authorizing -- we're going to deal with this in your bill and you're going to be with us, aren't you? And then Senator Thune, after he replaced Senator Daschle, the same kind of thing.
So I think Senator McCain's plea for a resuscitation I guess is the proper word of the authorizing function is the way around many of these problems. I do not think that earmarks are automatically evil. Indeed, I take issue with those who say that anything the Congress puts in the bill is pork. If you put in anything that's not in the president's budget, somehow you're porking it up. Well, the Constitution says the power of the purse lies in the hands of the Congress, and once again this has been allowed to shift downtown, in my great downtown so that now only the Executive Branch presumably is pure. And I've seen many circumstances where the Executive Branch has deliberately low-balled something that they know the Congress is going to beef up so that they can pretend to be the good ones on fiscal responsibility and we're the ones out of control. And every time we do beef it up, they're very glad because they recognize this is a legitimate kind of program but they want to take credit for having cut it. And I've had to deal with WIC, I've had to deal with food stamps -- a number of these areas.
So Congress is not being necessarily irresponsible when we put things in that the president's budget, be it a Democratic president or a Republican president, I haven't noticed any difference between the two parties on this process -- when we put in something that the president has not asked for, that doesn't mean we're being irresponsible, but I'm more than happy to have my name on it. I'm more than happy to have people know what I'm doing, if for no other reason that if it's a good thing, nobody else will be able to take credit for it.
SEN. LOTT: Thank you, Senator Bennett.
SEN. MARK DAYTON (D-MN): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank my three colleagues for their excellent input and their leadership on this.
Senator McCain, I certainly agree with what you said about the earmarks. I'm glad, if I understood correctly, that you concur with the chairman and Senator Feinstein in terms of extending that also to the Finance Committee to the tax bills as well as other conference reports. I can recall the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill coming back for some $10 billion that was added in conference for the certain interests. So I think in addition to the individual earmarks, if we talk about quote unquote "special interests" those are very well included in the tax bills and in some of the other bills, so I would support that and I'm glad there seems to be a consensus on that.
I think as you said, Senator Obama, I have broad agreement on many of these subjects. I think there's some where there are disagreements. I respectfully disagree with my colleague from Minnesota about how travel ought to be financed but those are discussions we can have in the markup and thereafter. I think it's been very productive and I thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for your excellent contributions.
SEN. LOTT: Thank you, Senator Dayton.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): Thanks very much, Mr. Chairman.
I'd like to just acknowledge the fact that Senator Hagel has come aboard on our earmarks legislation and I for one am very grateful for that.
Senator Dodd, thank you very much. We're very close to what Senator McCain has proposed and it seems to me hopefully we can be able to work it out so that it's bipartisan and hopefully move that part of the bill.
The other thing I'd like to say is I'd really like to concentrate on how you create that wall between the K Street community and us in a bill. And that really means that we ban all gifts, tickets, meals, travel or donations to a member's foundation or PAC from any registered lobbyists. And I think just that in itself is a pretty profound step forward. I think there is a gap in the law having to do with campaign finance because my understanding is that if a lobbyist has a ski event for you in Colorado as a fundraiser or wherever it is, they can turn over that check. I think we need to take a look at that.
My own view is that with respect to staff -- and this is not going to make me popular on the Hill -- but with respect to staff, there should not only be a two-year prohibition on senior staff from lobbying the Hill, it really ought to be on all staff, that there is this clean break. The theory behind what I'm saying is that the lobbying community, we do everything we can that it has function on the basis of merit with no other influence on the process.
SEN. LOTT: Senator Feinstein, I think Senator McCain's proposal does just that point.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Does it?
SEN. McCAIN: Yes.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: On all staff, two years. I don't think so.
SEN. McCAIN: Well, we have --
SEN. OBAMA: I think that what we've got is --
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Senior staff.
SEN. OBAMA: On senior staff on the various bills that I've seen and I think you make an important point, Senator Feinstein.
One area that we can look at is expanding the definition of what lobbying is. I mean part of the problem we have is that you've got staff, senior staff now or members who go over and even during that interim period of one year or two years, they say they're not lobbying but in the case of the pharma lobbyist was directing the entire lobbying effort around the prescription drug --
SEN. FEINSTEIN: And that's what --
SEN. McCAIN (?): This is in the McBama bill?
SEN. OBAMA: My sense is that there's going to be some agreement on some of these areas. I think Senator Feinstein makes an excellent point though. There's been a lot of focus on earmarks, that's important. It's an abuse of the budget process more than anything and as well as I think corrupting of how the public sees its money spent. But keep in mind that some of the most recent scandals had to do with the cozy relationship between K Street and Washington, and that has to be on the table. I don't want that to be lost in these conversations because if they are I think that it'll be greeted by cynicism on the part of the public.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well, let me just finish my statement.
SEN. McCAIN: Could I just say -- could I comment on your comment, Dianne?
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Yes.
SEN. McCAIN: I agree with Barack and I also think your point is very well made, and the more I think about it -- Mr. Scanlan was a press secretary, is that a senior -- is that a senior staff?
SEN. OBAMA: Mm.
SEN. McCAIN: I think your point is very well made.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: But it's not just on a former office, lobbying a former office, it's lobbying anywhere on the Hill, so that creates the wall and it prevents the behind the scenes maneuvering that goes on, I think. I also think that Senator Coleman made a valid point about allowing travel by non-profits, perhaps having it approved, because you know, CSIS, Aspen, there are a number of very good foundations that really provide an opportunity for members whose campaign funds or PACs or personal ability wouldn't be able to handle a $10 or 15,000 tour of the Stans or China or anywhere else. And I just learned that, you know, government rate right now between DC and San Francisco is a thousand dollars on United Airlines, so travel is important and is expensive.
And I think, you know, having the Ethics Committee perhaps review these might be a good thing to prevent the bogus non-profit. I also think we ought to end the K Street project. I must say this, that there can be no influence on hiring and firing on either end on K Street from this end or vice-versa. And I think if we were just able to make the earmarks change and strengthen the wall with respect to lobbyists, registered lobbyists, that it would be a big achievement.
That's all I wanted to say. Thank you.
SEN. LOTT: Thank you very much, Senator Feinstein.
Senator Chambliss has gone.
SEN. RICHARD J. DURBIN (D-IL): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you to Senator McCain and Senator Obama.
I'd like to say something that may not be popular, but I want to say it anyway. I think the vast majority of members of Congress are honest, ethical, hard-working people. They make great sacrifice for public service. There are always going to be people who break the law and they should be held accountable. But the starting point is, I think most of us want to know what the rules are and want to follow them closely.
The same thing can be said of many lobbyists that we work with. They are diligent, hard-working people who will follow the law carefully every day, and I think they perform a valuable function in Washington and a valuable function in our nation.
The second point I'd like to make is that I'm glad to hear that Senator McCain has included finance committee tax changes in his comments about earmarks, but to give you an illustration, we have an asbestos bill on the floor right now. I told the story on the floor a couple of hours ago of one corporation which has $4 billion in liability because of asbestos exposure, which if this bill is passed will only pay in 900 million to the trust fund. A $3.1 billion windfall for one corporation. Do you think they have a lobbyist in town? I bet you they do. Is that a pretty big earmark? Pretty big, three billion. So, if we're going to look at the whole scheme of things I think transparency and openness is part of that.
The final point I'll make, and I talked to Senator Dodd about this, and Senator Obama. At the heart of this whole issue is the way we finance our political campaigns, and unless and until we address that honestly we're going to keep carping on trifles, not that they aren't important things to do. But the reason that some of us end up dining with certain people is not because we greatly enjoy their company, but we need their help, we need their help to finance multi- million dollar campaigns.
When are we going to break away from what has become descending chaos in the way we finance campaigns in this country and move towards something where we can all say with pride, we are first public servants and not first fundraisers and then public servants. And I hope that we just don't satisfy ourselves with the good bills that are before us and stop the discussion. I know Senator Dodd is very interested in this issue too. So I hope we can follow through on that as well. Thank you.
SEN. LOTT: Thank you, Senator Durbin.
SEN. McCAIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to just make a brief comment on Senator Durbin's comments, and I apologize for taking up the time of the committee. I agree with everything you said, and really when you get down to it, are we going to act with integrity, you can set all the rules you want to. But I would point out, we had in the first committee this morning we had Professor Thurber and Larry Noble, two well-known and respected experts. Professor Thurber I believe is here. They both said that BCRA was a step forward significantly because of banning the soft money, and now we can't call up and tell a lobbyist or a corporation or a union leader that we want six figure checks.
But they also pointed out that the 527 issue is a gaping loophole in campaign financing, and I think we ought to sit down seriously no matter who happens to be advantaged by the 527s right now and together on a bipartisan basis address that issue. But I certainly agree with your comments about the honorable men and women we serve with, including my pen pal, and also the lobbyists are good and decent people as well. It's the system that's broken, not the people, I don't think. It breaks the people.
SEN. LOTT: Thank you very much, Senator McCain, Senator Obama, ,we appreciate your time.
Now we'd like to go to our second panel. Dr. James Thurber, distinguished professor and director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. Just got a good introduction from Senator McCain. Will the pen pals clear the room?
This is our show, you guys need to move on.
Don't get trampled, Dr. Thurber.
Let's see, Fred Wertheimer, former president of Common Cause, and founder and president of Democracy 21. Former congressman, Al Swift, who served in Congress for 16 years and is now a member of the Colling Murphy Public Relations and Government Affairs firm in Washington, a very thoughtful member of the House of Representatives where I served with him. And I also noted a recent article that he participated in writing, and his partner in that effort was Bob Hynes who's with us here today, also a member of the Colling Murphy firm.
Mr. Hynes formerly served as minority counsel in the House of Rules Committee where I had the pleasure of getting to know him and where I served, and he was legislative counsel to former House Republican Leader, Gerry Ford. He's a person who's followed the activities of the Congress, particularly the House, for years, very knowledgeable, and the column that the two of you wrote I found very interesting and that's why you're here today, to join in educating this panel. So thank you all very much for being here.
Dr. Thurber, let's begin with you.
MR. JAMES A. THURBER: I'd like to thank Chairman Lott --
SEN. LOTT: Let me just say, if you would, it's a bit -- we'd be glad to have your complete statement submitted for the record and we appreciate you summarizing it and keeping it to five minutes or so.
MR. THURBER: I will summarize it quickly. I want to say that your hearing today is very important. I've taught courses on ethics and lobbying and congress for over 35 years, founded the Lobbying Institute at American University where we train young people to have a highly ethical approach to public advocacy, and so this is right on in terms of my research and also my teaching.
I see this hearing as bringing together several streams of reform. You mentioned briefly before, one is campaign finance reform, but also lobbying form, procedural form. But also enforcement of existing rules and regulations for members and staff, and that's a very important point.
When Senator McCain this morning asked me what the problem was I kidding-ly said, you are the problem -- not you personally, but members of Congress, and staff are a problem to a certain extent because they -- very few of them, but a few have broken existing rules and the Ethics Committees have not done anything about it.
I'd like to focus today very briefly on two things, on enforcement and transparency, and the importance of those two elements of lobbying but also of the functions of congress. We guarantee the right in our constitution to express freedom of speech, assembly, to petition government, and to influence law-making deliberation oversight, education of the American public, from lobbyists but also from the Hill.
What we have in lobbying is a very large enterprise in Washington DC, much of it is unregulated, and if there's a debate about how many registered lobbyists there are, you've seen the articles in the paper, I go by the official count by the House and the Senate and there are about 34,000. But beyond that there's a lobbying industry of probably 150,000 people that support that, and support grassroots lobbying, top roots Astroturf, coalition building, television ads, print ads, it's all part of this, as well as campaigning.
I would like to submit to the record an article that I've written called, From Campaigning to Lobbying. The worlds of campaigning and lobbying are merged. The same people are doing campaigns as lobbying frequently, and we don't have a lot of transparency with respect to that.
Let me say that enforcing -- in talking about enforcement and transparency we have a couple of dilemmas. We do not have, in my opinion, adequate enforcement of existing laws and ethics. And before we go into major reforms I think that it would be important to get the two Ethics Committees and other committees of jurisdiction to be a little more rigorous over lobbying laws as well as ethics of members and staff.
I think I would encourage the Senate and the House to have regular oversight hearings to investigate allegations of existing ethics and lobbying law violations, and not wait for the LA Times or the newspapers or the Justice Department to pursue this. The committee should make recommendations to the full House and the Senate for censure and sanction, and that hasn't happened very often at all.
I think the Congress does not need to change the limit on gifts. It's a little radical for a reformer, but it needs to effectively oversee and enforce the existing gift ban. I think it's in fact somewhat trivial to talk about whether you go from 49.99 for a meal to $79 or $100. I think that the problem is that some members had unlimited eating and drinking rights at a restaurant, Signatures, and someone was paying for that, and that's the problem.
Congress does not need to prohibit the support of legitimate educational travel. It's very important for members and staff, and it's very important to do it in a bipartisan way. One of the only times that you really get to know each other are on these trips, with Aspen, but with other organizations, you get to know each other. It reduces extreme partisanship, it builds comity and civility among members, in my opinion. It needs to enforce the existing rules on travel and existing rules on private interest financing or subsidizing travel.
I urge the committee to support Senator Obama's proposal and the other proposals though since the committee seemed to not be doing their job of an independent and non-partisan professional office to oversee and enforce ethics, rules lobbying laws and travel. Maybe something similar to the FEC, not an independent regulatory agency, but a body that has resources in terms of money and expertise and time to do this.
No one is really looking at violations, in my opinion, of the lobbyists and lobbying. And most of them are -- I know many of them, they participate in my lobbying institute, are very professional and ethical, but there are some that aren't. And Abramoff and Scanlan and others are part of that, and they've admitted that.
Such an office could monitor and oversee lobbying reports, conduct investigations and allegations of ethics violations, and advise members and staff and lobbyists about compliance with rules. I think it's important, it is very important, for the House and the Senate -- I know it's very hard to get together on these things -- to have a common report that is simple to fill out from lobbyists, that is up on a web site, where people report cordially, and that if they're late they have a four week delay.
There's some people who don't report, they delay their reports for nine months, some of the major lobbying firms, we have a list of those, have really never reported because they are getting around the reporting requirements. If you have a common office with this data, and also data from the Federal Election Commission, to show where the money is coming from then the public can make a judgment about whether it is okay or not.
You asked about the 527, and I'll be glad to answer questions about that later, but let me say that I think the FEC has in one area done well, they have on line reporting. I think you should be able to have on line reporting for lobbyists. In fact, in talking to a group of lobbyists that have been doing this for many years, they thought -- they had no problems with this, and they thought about the idea of having a software package that is common to everybody to fill -- that they can fill out that makes it very easy. But you have to enforce timeliness in these reports, that is not being done right now.
In the spirit of transparency and with respect to earmarks, I would go further than Senator McCain's bill. I would include earmarks for appropriations, authorizations and tax bills that are done in -- sort of at the last minute and behind the scenes.
SEN. McCAIN (?): (Off mike.)
MR. THURBER: Right, and I was going -- the next sentence was, I support your bill, and I think it's a good idea. I first worked here for Senator Hubert Humphrey in 1973 and there were probably about -- slightly over one hundred earmarks on the appropriation bills. Now we're into the tens of thousands and there's a disagreement as to the effect. But let me tell you, $47 billion out of a budget that has little controllability because of the entitlement programs and insurance is a significant figure in the budget.
When the budget is about 35 percent controllable and you have $49 billion worth of earmarks it undermines the capacity of the executive branch to govern, to manage this, but more importantly, it undermines trust in your institution when they think that people can pay to play, they can do what Cunningham did, you can come in and give a campaign contribution and have it earmarked, it really undermines trust in this institution, and you are down in the doldrums in terms of public support for the institution, which as a lover of this institution I'm very concerned about.
I think that in conclusion earmarks are certainly part of the power of the purse. I think members should be able to have earmarks, and that's very important, that's your job. But it also should be in a context of open deliberation and you should have a name and a justification associated with it.
I'd like to stop with that, and I'm open to questions about other lobbying reforms, I've studied all of them, as well as campaign reform, procedure reforms, and I want to thank you very much for the privilege of speaking.
SEN. LOTT: Thank you, Dr. Thurber, for being here.
MR. FRED WERTHEIMER: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and we certainly appreciate the opportunity to testify, the fact that you're holding these hearings on what the country considers very important issues. I'd like to insert my full statement on the record and just make a few comments.
SEN. LOTT: Without objection it will be inserted on the record.
MR. WERTHEIMER: There hasn't been one single day as far as the public knows in which the House or Senate Ethics Committee has conducted any investigations of the Jack Abramoff scandals. In the House of Representatives, the House Ethics Committee --
SEN. LOTT: Are you talking about the Ethics Committee's you mean? That was John McCain --
MR. WERTHEIMER: No, no, I'm talking about the ethics --
SEN. LOTT: Okay.
MR. WERTHEIMER: In the House -- the House Ethics Committee has not functioned for the entire year of 2005, literally not been operational, without staff. So we believe that a fundamental issue here is the need to create some form of effective, publicly credible, oversight and enforcement process for Congress with regard to its own rules.
We appreciate the leadership that Senator Obama is showing in introducing the legislation he talked about. We are supporting a different approach, but it has the same goal. We are supporting an independent, non-partisan and professional office of public integrity in Congress to take on a number of these functions, to bifurcate the process of examining complaints or potential ethics problems, dismissing frivolous ones, investigating serious ones, with the Ethics Committee still having the responsibility to decide whether violations have occurred, and with public accountability and checks built into the system the proposal we're supporting is in my testimony in detail.
On the issue of lobbying, travel and the use of company planes at first class fare has become a very hot issue on Capitol Hill. It's an area where past practices have involved many members using these practices. Many, no doubt, for serious purposes. Others, clearly, for purposes that do not constitute legitimate fact-finding missions.
If you go outside the Congress, you look at a poll by the Washington Post last month, and it says the following, "Nine in ten people responded that it should be illegal for lobbyists to give members of Congress gifts, trips or anything else of value." That's nine in ten. There's overwhelming public concern according to that poll and other polls about these practices.
If you look at a Los Angeles Times poll, 72 percent support the practice of ending the corporate jets at first class fare, more than 70 percent. We think you need to take very serious steps with regard to lobbying reforms that will break the nexus between lobbyists, money and law-makers.
On campaign finance reform, we believe that very important lobbying reforms can and should be now. We share the view expressed by senators here today, that this is the core issue in the long-term for addressing these problems. We believe you need fundamental campaign finance reform. For us that means starting with fixing the presidential public financing system which served this country well, democrats and republicans. Used it for 25 years, almost all of the candidates.
It's broken and the system needs to be fixed. The concept should be extended to congressional races. We strongly support closing the 527 group loophole created by the Federal Election Commission, reducing the costs of television, and dealing with the abject failure of the FEC by creating a new, effective enforcement body. We've got ineffective enforcement of the campaign finance laws, and we don't have the will to date in Congress to enforce the ethics rules.
We would like to see 527 legislation move very quickly so it can be effective for the 2006 elections. We oppose attaching that legislation to lobbying reform. We do not believe that is the fair way to do it. Frankly, we also do not believe it's the most effective way to win this battle.
We also oppose it becoming a Christmas tree for amendments to undermine existing laws which would take us from supporting it to opposing it. We supported very strongly, Senator Lott, the bill that you brought to the rules committee from markup on 527 legislation. We oppose the bill that came out. We would like to see the original bill that you introduced, support this -- pass this Congress, pass the House, pass the Senate, and do so quickly as separate legislation.
Finally, on earmarks, we support the efforts that are going on, Senator McCain, Chairman Lott, Senator Dodd, Senator Feinstein, Senator Hagel. It's a very important issue because it has taken on a life of its own. It creates the public impression that the appropriations process, the Congress, has become kind of a playground where lobbyists using non-public, non-accountable means, are able to take care of their special projects without members in the end voting on it.
Your proposal, Senator Lott, that covers conference reports across the board if a proposal is put in there that hasn't been in either the House or Senate is an important example of what has to be done in terms of requiring the opportunity for a vote on that, returning accountability -- if you return a voting process and public accountability to this process you will have a different context in which people will view earmarks. Almost anything in these bills can fit into the definition of an earmark before we're done.
Thank you very much.
SEN. LOTT: Thank you, sir.
MR. AL SWIFT: Yes, thank you, Mr. Chairman, and with your permission, Bob and I will make a joint presentation and promise to bring it in under five minutes.
SEN. LOTT: You've obviously served in the House in your earlier life.
MR. SWIFT: And you did a fine job introducing us, so I won't be redundant with that.
We're here primarily to address lobbying reform, though we think all of the other topics that have been discussed are very important as well. And we think it's worth noting at the outset that the people who recently plead guilty to corruption charges did so for violations of current law. They were caught and prosecuted under the rules and legislation that already exists, and that should not be forgotten.
Nevertheless, we assume Congress is going to adopt some additional reform. We personally believe that the vast majority of law makers and lobbyists, as Senator Durbin suggested, want to obey by the rules whatever they are. But the public has less confidence than we do sometimes, and I think the Congress does need to respond to the more skeptical perception.
When Congress has reacted to similar scandals in the past it's been our observation that they generally crafted rules that are complex, are often difficult to understand, and if you're law-abiding it makes it difficult to understand, and they're easy to circumvent if you aren't concerned with abiding by them.
So this time our proposal is that you try to adopt something that is as solid and simple and effective as you possibly can instead of the usual patchwork of well-intended but often meaningless kinds of changes. In addition to simplicity we propose that a guiding principle be that members of Congress and their staffs are here for one purpose and one purpose only, that's to do the public's business.
So whatever is useful for that business is what the rules should be concentrating on, and eliminate those things that aren't related in that way. For example, the theater, sports events, golfing outings and such have no relationship to the public's business, nor do gifts. Our first suggestion then is to simply just ban all gifts and entertainment -- we'll get to meals in a moment. Just do away with them. Fooling around with the dollar amounts just makes a game out of it, and who needs a $49 gift anyway? So, do the simple thing, get rid of both gifts and entertainment.
Travel we believe is different. Travel that is connected to the public's business can be very useful. It has also been abused, but we believe there is a way to keep even privately funded travel available to members and staff while reducing the chance for abuse. Our suggestion is to require that all privately sponsored travel be authorized by the Committee of Jurisdiction over the business that is to be conducted there.
There have been other suggestions, that the Ethics Committee do that. Another suggestion is that an outside independent commission do it. Now as a person who also loves this institution I hate the thought that either body would have to bring in adult supervision to control it, but if you need to go to an independent source, that's fine. The point here is it should be pre-authorized by some entity that will determine that it has a business purpose, and we would apply the no gifts and no entertainment ban to the travel as well, so if you're going to go deep sea fishing you're going to have to pay for it yourself.
I would simply add that Jonathon Swift, no relative of mine so far as I know, made an outrageous suggestion which he called a modest proposal, and with that I turn it over to my colleague.
MR. BOB HYNES: Because I am going to make, Mr. Chairman, a modest proposal.
We suggest that we remove all restrictions on accepting meals. Having watched members from both the inside of the institution and from the outside as a lobbyist for NBC for many years, and now in private practice, I have never known a lunch or a dinner to influence a decision. Even the priciest meal is not going to change a vote. So rather than complex rules deciding how much and how often we think that the rules should just be done away with.
A further point. I've always believed the best regulator of public policy behavior is transparency. If the world knows what someone is doing that person is less likely to do anything that would draw criticism. So we would repeal the current restrictions on meal completely with a straightforward reporting requirement. At the beginning of each month every member would be required to list prominently on their official web site the meals they and their staff have accepted. Lobbyists, of course, would have to report as well.
By having the information available in this way you accomplish two things. First, you've got a double check on the activity. It should show both on the lobbying report and on the member's web site. Such an approach leaves discretion to the member, which we believe is where it belongs. He or she will need to determine what their constituents will accept.
The second virtue then is that members would use that discretion with the full knowledge that besides their constituents, potential opponents, editorial writers, reporters, would also have the information and be able to comment about it, so it's public information. This is a direct and simple approach. We think it would be quite effective.
I should say that we also hope that members would not avoid dinners. We believe that meals are traditional and commonplace to discuss business in our society. They can be useful in obtaining information that is helpful to making public policy. Having a point of view presented over a steak is little difference than sitting and having the same information in a member's office. It is, after all, the information, not the steak, that will be persuasive to the member. Besides reporting such meals would surely be a moderating influence on both their frequency and their opulence.
One last observation. No reform can prevent those determined to break the rules from doing so. Adding new layers of regulations doesn't change that. Crooks will be crooks. So there needs to be a sufficient penalty for violations. Here a good degree of transparency would also serve us well. The political damage from, as an example, a formal rebuke on the floor of the body would seem to be an efficient deterrent.
History and experience suggests that whatever is done now there will be another scandal some day. With luck it will not be as breathtakingly greedy and crude as the one Mr. Abramoff has pleaded guilty to, but it will happen. Keeping the rules straightforward and simple will make transgressions easier to detect, deter and to punish.
Mr. Chairman, we thank you for this opportunity to testify and we'd be happy to answer any questions that you or any of the members of the committee will have.
SEN. LOTT: Thank you very much, gentlemen. It's good to see you and I'm glad to have the practical suggestions of two men who have seen it from the House side, inside, outside again in a variety of roles, and I think your presentation was very, very interesting.
Let me make a few comments and maybe ask a couple of questions too because I withheld both questions. I do think that a lot of what we need to do here is to force the existing law. The idea that the law was broken so let's change the law just didn't make sense in some respects. I do think we need to do a better job of enforcing the law, and of the ethics.
I had the misfortune when I first came to the Senate of being convinced by Senator Dole that he was going to give me a leadership position, and I took the bait. I said, "Thank you, sir, this quick?" He said, "Yes, I, as the leader, am going to put you on the Ethics Committee, which is therefore -- (laughter) -- considered a leadership position." I said, "Okay, thank you very much. I came from the House, I've been there 16 years, you ain't fooling me."
But I went on the Ethics Committee and I had to endure a number of investigations and actions. I was there for the Keating Five. I was there for the D'amato (ph) hearings. I had a close proximity to the Packwood matter. And let me just say that, you know, there have been occasions in the Senate -- and if you look back over the history, the Senate has enforced its rules on occasion very vigorously, and I think we should again.
I am meeting with members of our current Ethics Committee, including the chairman, chairman Voinovich, and I've spoken to Democratic members of the committee. Some of their problem they tell me is that the laws -- the rules they have to enforce are ambiguous, are unenforceable, you know, not clear, and we're going to work together. They're going to come to the rules committee and suggest maybe some changes that we would consider in the ethics area to give them more ability to act or to make it clear when they should act, now where it's not totally clear. So I'm pursuing that avenue too.
I think maybe it's appropriate that a Republican say what I'm about to say, and that is, you know, I really take umbrage of all this, you know, howling about earmarks.
You know, I'm from one of the poorer states of the nation, I have earmarked lots of projects and there are very few that I will apologize for, and quite often I had to do it because the bureaucrats won't do their job, you know.
I have tried repeatedly to get the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help the poor people of Tula, Mississippi, which is 98 percent African American, inadequate water and sewer system, inadequate housing, they flood each year, and nothing, not a nickel, has come from the department. And so I put earmarked designations form, as well as my colleague, Senator Cochran. I did it, I'm proud of it, and I'm not going to stop.
And I also think that it -- I don't understand this deal where it's okay for the bureaucracy to earmark, but not members of Congress. We do have the power of the purse, and you know, it says very clearly in the Constitution, article 1, section 9, "No money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in consequence of appropriations by law, made by law."
And look at the budget we just got Monday. Look, I've been here through seven presidents now, and the budgets are not worth the paper they're written on. They send them up here, we pore around on them and throw them out on the street and go on about our business, and partly because they send, you know, stuff they ought to earmark like to keep people from flooding in rural communities and poor communities, they don't put it in there, and they don't put in there because they know we will. Their budget looks better, we look like porksters.
So I just want the American people to listen to this and watching this. You know, this is part of the process. Now, having said that, I know when it's unseemly. I've gone back and changed the rules, if you'll take a look at the Senate rules, where I felt that there was a potential for mischief. I don't like these deals where leaders or subcommittee chairmen go into late night meetings somewhere in the caverns of the capital and add things that could be worth millions, or even billions, at night, not in either body, not -- you know, not -- no hearings, no nothing. You know, I'm unnerved by that. I don't want that to happen, and I think there's got to be a way to control that.
And I think we should be able to get at it, whether it's finance committee or authorization committee or appropriations committee, when that sort of thing is done, there's got to be a way for the light of day to shine on it, and there's got to be a way to knock it out without knocking out a whole bill. And the point has been made I think maybe by Senator Feinstein now, you've got a $10 million bogus project that you want to knock out on a $35 billion bill on Thursday night before you're ending the session for the year on Friday, you're not going to be able to do that and there's got to be a way to do it, and I'm going to help find a way to do it because I do think that the opportunities for mischief and the appearance and all of that is very bad. But I just want to get that on the record.
And also the proposal by the two gentlemen, Congressman Swift and Mr. Hynes, about the gifts and the meals, I agree with that. You know, I do think we need to pay attention, not only to what is a violation, but what looks bad, looks like a violation. Gifts, I don't like that. You know, I don't care whether it's 50 bucks or 100 bucks. First of all, it's not worth the grief you could get over it. You know, and most of the ties I get are not worth having anyway, so give me a break.
So get rid of the gifts, and you know, anything from lobbyists of that nature. Having said that, and I realize I'm the exception, but I've never gone to breakfasts around here. I always have breakfast with my wife and kids. And I also have a rule, I go to dinners widely attended one night a week. I have dinner with my wife.
And the very idea that somebody thinks or insinuates or believes that I can be had for a meal when I hate meals as much as I do offends me. But to say ban all gifts, including meals, I just think we're just going off the total deep end. I'd like it fine because that way I would never have to go to another meal, and I ain't going to go to a meal where I have to fumble around for my moth infested dollar bills because I'm too cheap and I'm not going to do that. And plus, I don't like the meals here, they're not real good soul food.
So I just -- you know, I do -- we get a ban on gifts, I just think the meals thing is going too far. Maybe you gentlemen have a proposal. If we have to ban meals too it doesn't bother me. But I just want the American people to know that we're -- you know, the suggestion that that's some sort of gift of value that's going to affect what we do is just outrageous.
Now, having said that, let me just say to you, Dr. Thurber, I appreciate what you had to say and your thoughtfulness on this. I know you'd like to -- there are other areas we can get to, and maybe we ought to come back. I mean, we do need to deal with the 527s and I'd like to go back to the original 527 that we introduced, that I introduced, Mr. Wertheimer, some things were added here in the committee that I didn't approve of, but we -- you know, that's the way the amendment process works.
And I'm going to push aggressively for the leadership to bring up 527 freestanding. And then, frankly, dare anybody to try to undermine it, which I think would happen, but I think we can -- I think we can win that, because it is the right thing to do and it's not about Republicans and Democrats or who's getting more money than they are, and who's giving the money. This is an area of trouble. We are going to be disgraced, both of the parties, if we don't deal with this 527 area, in my opinion.
So -- but with regard to this thing about earmarks. I mean, do you agree that we do have a constitutional role here, Dr. Thurber, and that there's -- just because a bureaucrat at, you know, Interior wrote it doesn't mean it's pure as the driven snow?
MR. THURBER: I agree with you totally, and I started out with that, that you're the people's body, you have the right to earmark, you have the power of the purse, and one man or woman's earmark is another person's good public policy. It's just that when you do it after a conference, maybe even after a conference vote, you put in an earmark, it's outrageous, and it undermines -- when those get in the paper it undermines trust in this institution.
I like your bill because it deals with the problem of earmarks during conferences. But there are also other stages where I think it could be clear. I think it would be good to have name and justification of earmarks. I mean, many times -- you know, I was just mentioning earlier, I have 147 former students that work on the Hill. Some of them work on the appropriations staff. I will not name names, but they call me with their stories about last minute earmarks, and that's the sort of thing that I think should be transparent, open. I think your bill deals with that at the conference stage, but I think it should be dealt with at earlier stages.
SEN. LOTT: Just one other example and I'll yield to others. We've even gotten into the position that we're funding local community centers. Now, I'm for local community centers. I think they're nice, and in some communities all they have is a community center building and maybe a post office with a flag. But is that a federal role? But what has happened, we've slid down that slippery slope. Somebody did it one day, then somebody else caught that senator so-and-so did it. And all of a sudden we're all being -- you know, I have delegation after delegation coming from counties in my state saying, hey, you've got a community center in, you know, Noxubee County, how about us?
And I do think we need to lay down some criteria. One of the criteria that I tried to get the highway bill people to impose last year was that no project would be included in the bill that did not directly relate to the federal highway system. I couldn't get them to do that. If the two chairmen had just laid -- and the ranking members -- had just laid down that rule then you wouldn't have had museums in New York or county roads in Mississippi funded. But unless you have some limitation agreement, you can't deny them all, because you've got to -- somehow or other that's -- by the way, that's one way we get votes.
So a lot of this has to do with us and how we do business. You can't legislate, you know, morals, and you can't legislate responsibility. And I think we as members of the Senate, House and Senate, have got to step up to putting some restrictions on these sort of things on our own. You know, we're not going to have a rule that says you can't fund community centers. We need to stop that. It's just one of many things that adds to the proliferation of all those earmarks.
Well, I've gone on too far, but I held my --
MR. THURBER: Senator, may I add --
SEN. LOTT: Surely.
MR. THURBER: -- not only you, there's an industry in Washington DC that started probably 20 years ago, probably before that, but specifically 20 years ago, of lobbying shops that focus on earmarks, period. They do earmarks, and --
SEN. LOTT: Yes. I remember when it first started.
MR. THURBER: Yeah, right. And a university will give them a $100,000 retainer. I think it's a waste of money personally.
SEN. LOTT: It is. We worked with that university, they don't have to pay an outside lobbyist for anything.
MR. THURBER: Yeah, I know. You should be working directly and you do with universities, but some of them pay money and then they hire a lobbyist and the lobbyist comes up and they promise to get an earmark. And if they get an earmark sometimes there's a retainer --
SEN. LOTT: Here's a good reason why there should be earmarks. When I first came here, unless you were a scientist at a few select universities, maybe Stanford, MIT, you know, you weren't going to get any of the NSF or other projects. If you were Washington State or Mississippi State, you could forget it, or Georgia Tech, even though those have good engineering schools or good science programs. And so, you know, you start earmarking. And then once you get into the network, like Georgia Tech and Mississippi State has now, then you're into the system.
So -- now, again, is that the best way to do it? No. But there was a sweetheart arrangement between the federal government, the bureaucracy, and a few select universities, who by the way don't have monopoly on all the knowledge. So how about -- what about that situation? Do you --
MR. THURBER: Well, I believe in a meritocracy. I'm in a university and willing to compete in a meritocracy, and sometimes there are very fine universities like CalTech, and there are some in Connecticut I think, Yale and Harvard, and they're very hard to compete with because they have the best in the world. I worry when someone hires a lobbyist to come in and to earmark money away from a really fine research project at a very fine institution. But, on the other hand, it's important to represent your local interests and to send money to those institutions also, but that should be done maybe through the authorization process.
SEN. LOTT: I agree, I don't like -- I don't like the lobbyists being hired to get a specific earmarked university, but I do think that there's a need or an opportunity, or a need to sometimes have some earmarks for universities. You know, so, how do you deal with that, that problem, that dichotomy? You know, you can't prohibit lobbyists.
MR. THURBER: Well, I think that you --
SEN. LOTT: But I'm not going to give up --
MR. THURBER: -- deal with it through the authorization process in open deliberation.
SEN. LOTT: And I have found that research done at Mississippi State University is far superior to that at Yale.
And with that I'll yield to Senator Dodd.
That's right, Senator Dodd's from Connecticut.
SEN. DODD: Just coincidentally.
And I'm a Yale graduate. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Let me thank all four of you, very, very excellent testimony. And, Al, it's wonderful to see you again. We served in the House together for years, and having been a former member of the House of Rules Committee as well, it's good to see you. You haven't aged at all it seems looking across the table. And, Fred, obviously, it's a pleasure once again. You've appeared so many times before this committee and others over my tenure of 25 years here in the Senate, and we thank you as well for your service here in the Senate as well as what you're doing today.
I'm struck by something that occurred to me -- not me, to Doug Bennett. Many of you may recall Doug is the president at Wesleyan University today but worked in the Senate back -- worked for Abe Ribicoff, worked for Tom Eagleton, among others, before heading up I think the Corporation of Public Broadcasting or Public Radio, I guess it was, and I think the Roosevelt Foundation, he had a very distinguished career in public service and is now doing a marvelous job at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.
He and I were having a conversation a couple of years ago, and it's become more poignant to me now as the father of two young daughters, a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old. And it's something I'm sure all of you have done who have older children than I do, and that is when you begin the process of educating your children about the notion of personal responsibility. And if you want your children to be personally responsible, to understand as they grow older, the ability to distinguish between right and wrong.
And not because there's a set of rules or regulations some place that exists that you have to check to determine if something is right or wrong, but because you understand the difference between right and wrong. It's not an easy concept, obviously, and some people never learn it. But Doug Bennett and I were talking about it because every institution it seems, both public and private, are moving away further and further and further away from this concept of personal responsibility, the idea that good people who generally want to do the right thing should make those distinctions.
Today what happens is a practical matter here and I gather is going on as well in the private sector, that there are these committees or groups or whatever that are established which you can make a phone call to or write a note to and ask if I may do the following things, attend a dinner or travel to such and such a place, or the like. And some voice on the other end of the phone or at the other end of a piece of correspondence, an e-mail, will say, yes, you may, no, you may not.
And that becomes the decision making process where people seem to be moving away from the notion of, is this the right thing to do or not the right thing to do. And in more cases than not, in my view, people know what's the right thing to do and not the right thing to do. And too often we've seen more recently and obviously the events as they'll unfold in the coming weeks we'll know more about it, but people made very bad decisions. They lacked personal responsibility in deciding what their public trust had been given to them by their constituents.
I'll just start with that, and obviously we're going to have a set of rules we deal with, but I regret and I bemoan and it saddens me in a way that we're reaching a point where we no longer seem to want to propose or insist upon personal responsibility. We'll establish committees and groups and outside independents, and somehow there's going to be some miraculous group somewhere that's going to be able to dictate or provide decisions that are going to be pure in some way in all of this, and it troubles me about where we're headed with all of this.
So I start with that. It worries me. That we're moving away from this notion of personal responsibility and going to rely more and more on a set of regulations and rules and committees of one kind or another to determine what's right and what's wrong, and that worries me about the direction we're going in.
I want to make a couple of comments. One, I think enforcement is so important.
I think all of you touched on this but it deserves being repeated in my view. Everything that I know about this Abramoff scandal, if you will, is that everything that -- there's been allegations because existing laws, regulations and rules that prohibit the behavior which has been alleged and that we don't enforce the existing rules.
Let me just tell you some statistics that are interesting. First of all how this works under present laws. Today the Department of Justice -- is not the Ethics Committee of the Congress by the way -- enforces lobbyist violations of the Lobbying Disclosure Act. The Senate Office of Public Records receives the filings of lobbyists and refers any instance of inappropriate filing to the Department of Justice. The Senate Office of Public Records receives about 45,000 filings per year, many of them very, very late, by the way, in violation of existing rules and laws. Some of them never file them by the way at all which is in direct violation of the existing rules and law.
Since 2003 the Office of Public Records has referred over 2,000 cases to the Department of Justice and nothing's been heard from them again. So the existing system is broken. So in a sense before we start talking about what more needs to be done, we'd better get the existing system operating in such a way that you can deal with these problems that we're talking about. Now, maybe this system isn't right. I'm not sure whether or not we ought to have some other structure here than the one I've just described to you and maybe you might have some thoughts about that as to how we might change that. But under the present system we're failing terribly. Before we start adding to the existing body of rules and regulations we'd better put some resources and personnel and other requirements in place to make sure that the existing laws are going to be complied with.
On travel, let me just share some thoughts. I first of all share the thought of Al Swift. I think the chairman as well. I am for banning all of this stuff. I mean, it just doesn't make any sense to me. I think you stop it. The idea that there are coffee cups and ties or whatever else you're getting is just junk and it's ridiculous, and rather than trying to distinguish what's under a certain amount or not is annoying, it's bothersome, it's meddlesome -- just stop it.
The travel issue I think raises some issues not just for the NGOs. I serve on the Banking Committee. I've been on the Banking Committee for 25 years. I sit with Paul Sarbanes and been with good colleagues. Paul being the ranking Democrat and Dick Shelby the chairman of the committee. I've spoken over the years at countless organizations, Securities Industry Association, American Bankers Association, labor groups, consumer groups that have invited me to come and listen as well as share thoughts about where things were moving. I found that very, very valuable. Now, they have other functions that go on, there are dinners and other things that occur there. I would hope in our zest to reform on travel you wouldn't just limit it to the Aspen Institute or other organizations who I think do a very, very fine job, but there's a value in some of this other activity that I think we ought to be careful about before slamming the door on it.
I think the suggestion that some of you made -- and I apologize not remembering which one -- that the committee of jurisdiction, the Banking Committee in this case, that you go and say I've been invited by the way to speak at the SIA meeting, wherever it's going to be held this year, as the chairman of the Subcommittee on Securities. Is that permissible, I'd like to go, here's why I think it's important to go. And then report back by the way. I think the other part of this is what did I do there? I spoke, here are my remarks, if you will, or what happens so there's some follow on so you get some sense of what you engaged in. Rather than a total ban on it, I think some way to not disallow that interchange that can go on. A lot of it goes on here but I think it's valuable.
Earmarks we've talked about already and I support what the chairman is talking about here as well. I think it's very, very important.
Lastly I just want to comment on what Fred's suggestions were here, and again I come back to where I started earlier today. With all of this here, campaign finance is still to me the central issue here, more so than anything else. And I'm worried that we're going to deal with these issues, which I think are fine, and then consider the job done and avoid what is still to me the most perplexing issue after 25 years, the amount of time and effort, what we've done -- what the founders never grappled with because initially you had to be a white male that owned property to either vote or hold public office in this country of ours.
Now we've eliminated all those laws but de facto we've shrunk the pond, in my view, of potential candidates for the Congress of the United States because of the barrier of financing these campaigns. And the pool of people who are willing to step forward and run today has shrunk considerably because of the proliferation of dollars involving campaigns. And I would hope and pray that we would not miss the opportunity to do something about this -- presidential campaigns as well. If all we do here is deal with gifts and travel for members of Congress and fail to deal with campaign finance reform, and presidential campaign finance reform which is in great jeopardy after 25 years of great success, there's once in a generation opportunities that come along and I think we'll regret deeply that we missed an opportunity to really deal with some of these pressing issues. MR. WERTHEIMER: Senator, could I comment on that?
SEN. DODD: I wish you would, yeah.
MR. WERTHEIMER: I think the campaign finance issue is back on the agenda and it's going to be a battle and there are different views on this. But the corruption and lobbying scandals aren't going away. Jack Abramoff and that investigation isn't going away. These issues aren't going away. And I think the Congress is going to have and must have another opportunity to really address this fundamental problem of how our campaigns are paid for and what the results of that are.
I'd also like to make one other comment. I think the bottom line is too much of what members of Congress do today are paid for by lobbyists. That's the bottom line. I mean you can pick out a trip, you can pick out an event, but I'll just run down for you now how lobbyists help either directly finance or assist members.
SEN. DODD: (Off mike.)
MR. WERTHEIMER: Yes. But lobbyists make contributions, they hold fundraisers, they solicit money, they pay for or arrange travel, they arrange for company planes where you don't pay full fare, they arrange or finance parties now at conventions. We can talk about a $50 or a $100 meal is going to make a difference, but what we have going on is an unjustified gaping loophole in the gift rules that allow a lobbyist or the lobbyist clients to pay $50,000 or $100,000 to throw a party for a specific member at a convention. These parties have gone up as much as $250,000. That, as some of the senators used to say around here, in relative terms is real money. And that's going on. Lobbyists are making contributions to foundations controlled by members. Lobbyists are paying for retreats and conferences. There is just too much of your activity being paid for by lobbyists and in order to deal with that we do have to change rules. Rules matter.
SEN. DODD: I don't disagree with that, Fred, but you know as well as I do what's going to happen here. A lot of this just will end up moving into the campaign structure. That's my point. You can ban all of this stuff and someone will turn around and they can have a campaign fundraiser for you and do exactly the things you described and we're not touching that.
MR. WERTHEIMER: We would like to deal with both of those, Senator.
SEN. DODD: Well, I agree. My point is don't miss -- I haven't done the math on the Abramoff scandal but my view is you total up the money that was spent on meals and trips, as bad as they were, and then look at where the campaign contributions came in, and I suspect the latter number would dwarf the former one. And my fear is that we're going to deal with the first number and not with the second number, and that's where the real problem lies in the long run. Both exist, but I'm worried, Fred -- I've been around long enough. You've watched us here. Congress doesn't have the appetite to deal with two issues like this in the same Congress, and particularly in an election year. They'll deal with one of them and my fear is that by bifurcating -- and I'm supporting that -- that we're going to miss doing the second one which is the far more pernicious one, in my view.
MR. THURBER: Might I add to the conversation here. The growth in lobbying expenditures, the wash of money into Washington is part of the problem also in my opinion.
It was $2.128 billion last year, estimated maybe to go up to $3 billion this year by outside experts. That is $177 million per month per member of Congress. That is $275,701 per member per month. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. It doesn't include money for grassroots, top-roots, astro-turf, issue ads, coalition building and maintenance. It's probably only one-fifth of the money being spent in Washington on lobbying.
In the spirit of transparency, I would encourage you to encourage others that have jurisdiction over this to report on all of those activities, especially if they're over $10,000 in terms of grassroots activities. It goes on all the time.
SEN. DODD: Are you familiar with -- I just went through this DOJ stuff. Do you have -- I mean these reported cases, I don't know what's happened to these matters. What's happened here?
MR. THURBER: Well, they're doing nothing as far as I can see. If you're referring to the references of non-compliance, they're not pursuing it.
SEN. LOTT: Senator Dayton, you've been very patient. Join in.
SEN. DAYTON: Thank you.
You know, I'm concerned about the way we carve these because the reason we're here is because some new members evidently and lobbyists who didn't exercise proper discretion but we all get tarnished with that brush. You made the comment about the Ethics Committees. Well, the House Ethics Committee is, from what I've read, non-functional. The Senate Ethics Committee, I can attest, is very active and I can sympathize with how difficult that task is. But those who want to try to comply with these rules which are complicated, you know, use that committee extensively to get feedback to try to stay out of difficult.
And I agree with Senator Durbin, I think most members are involved in doing so. I have trouble when we start trying to slice and dice these things because first of all I think we lose the public. We lose the public trust and because we're just opening up cracks that other people are going to push their way through. We can say that a non-profit entity should be able to provide travel and other expenses, and then somebody's non-profit is an innocent Aspen Institute or whatever, somebody else's non-profit is going to Scotland to play golf. And it's the one they're going to Scotland to play golf that gets the publicity and then becomes, in the public eye, something that applies to all of us.
So I think banning things that are going to be paid for by someone else -- because I don't know many non-profits or NGOs that have their own airplanes, and I don't know many lobbyists that have their own -- I don't know many lobbyists, period, but I don't know of many lobbyists that have their own airplanes but they can find a corporation where somebody's got an airplane to provide that kind of travel where somebody is going to get special treatment and is looking for special treatment. They're not doing this because they're making charitable contributions, they're doing this because they're making investments that they believe provide a return. If they didn't get a return they wouldn't be doing what they're doing. And that's just human nature and that's just basic self interest.
There's nothing -- and I think we've got to separate this -- there's nothing that prevents any of us from traveling or from going to conferences or giving speeches. You know, we can get on an airplane like every other -- most other Americans and get on a commercial airplane and fly. You can get to Aspen pretty directly. If somebody really needs to fly on non-commercial there are options. You can charter a plane, you can get five of your colleagues to charter a plane. You can have timeshare arrangements, you can have the VFEC (ph) and the RFEC (ph) have timeshare to get members around where they have to go if they don't want to go commercially but that's paid for out of somebody's political dollars which have to be raised.
It's paid for out of committees. I've gone to Iraq twice on Armed Services Committee. I didn't have to pay for that. I wouldn't have chosen to do so. But the committee -- and I don't have a problem justifying to my constituents that I went to Iraq twice. If I can't justify it, I shouldn't go. If I can't justify going to Aspen for the Aspen Institute, which I've not done, and charging that to my own office fund or getting one of the committees to pay for it out of public dollars, then as public official -- which is how I've been invited and why I'm going -- then I shouldn't be making that trip.
So I think banning these things, whether they're meals. With all respect, I don't think very many constituents can figure out why somebody who gets paid $150,000 a year can't buy their own dinner. And I don't know there are many lobbyists who need to have dinner with somebody that they can't present in a meeting if they're not willing to pay for that on a dutch treat basis.
I mean these things to me are just common sense by perception of most people, and the more we make it intricate, the more we try to slice it and dice it -- right now with the gift ban and -- there are 23 exceptions. No wonder the Ethics Committee and these others have trouble applying these and enforcing these. There's a $50 limit on gifts and there's a limit on meals and there are 23 exceptions to that. You know, so right away you're in the intricacies of these things and everybody's got a good reason for why this is innocent and this is not and the like but, you know, everybody's perception is different but the bottom line is you've opened that door, you've got people doing all these different things.
So I think we've got to be -- without being too abrupt, I think we've got to be simple and straightforward and deal with the reality, but also deal with the public perception. And I want something that I can stand on and I want everybody else to have to stand on, so if somebody else is abusing it, it's as clear to everybody that that's an abuse and an exception, it's not the rule, we're not all corrupt, we're not all crooks, we're not all doing anything other than what we're told within the rules we can do, but every time somebody violates that, we all get targeted with that brush. And I want to try to make that as difficult as possible and when it happens I want it to be as blatant as possible.
MR. SWIFT: Senator, if I could just make a simple observation. It's one of the reasons that in Bob and my -- is keep it simple. The more complex it is, the more you have the good guys jumping through hoops and the bad guys jumping through loopholes. Just keep it -- whatever you do, keep it simple and it will be so much easier to enforce.
SEN. LOTT: One last question that I'd like to propound and ask the panel to perhaps submit something to me in writing. Are any of you constitutional lawyers? I know a couple of lawyers but I don't know if you consider yourself lawyers. No?
MR. WERTHEIMER (?): I'm proud to not be a lawyer. I'm sorry, I shouldn't say that. My wife's the lawyer, I'm not. SEN. LOTT: Well, here's what I was going to say. One thing that bothers me more and more, particularly of the Senate, comes from a wealthy background and -- no slight intended, but some of us are blue collar background. I'm the son of shipyard worker, I came here to this city when I was 26. I had nothing and I probably have less now after Hurricane Katrina. And some of the people that are advocating for instance limit on travel will jump on their own private planes and take off. I don't think that's fair. And so they're going to be running around the country campaigning in their private jets while the rest of us are trying to figure out how we pay charter rate. I'm not saying that we shouldn't limit that, but I would like for you to help me figure out how we can say no, wait a minute, same rules apply for everybody. You can't say everybody else pays charter rate and then go out and get on your private plane and go do exactly the same thing.
I suspect we get tangled up with the Constitution there. But I'm working on how we do that, how we can limit that to say that flights like that can only be paid, if we're going to put a limitation on it, out of campaign funds which is a potential for mischief because some rich person just put $50,000 in their campaign and take off. Or they either have to come out of campaign funds or official accounts only.
MR. WERTHEIMER: Senator, with all due respect, no one gets a charter rate for first class fare except members of Congress that I know of. I mean it's its own problem. I understand the issue you're raising and it comes up in campaign financing as well, where the wealthy person can spend unlimited amounts and the rest of candidates run under --
SEN. LOTT: That has to do with speech though. This is not about speech.
MR. WERTHEIMER: I know, but the issue here really is why should members of Congress be able to have this kind of benefit and why is it being provided when no one else can get it?
SEN. LOTT: All I'm saying is, if that's going to be the rule it has to be universal. It has to apply to the person that has his own Lear jet.
MR. SWIFT: Mr. Chairman?
SEN. LOTT: Yes, Mr. --
MR. SWIFT: For two years, two Congresses I led the Democratic effort on campaign finance reform. I was notably unsuccessful. And I think what we were trying to do at the time I now believe wouldn't have worked anyway because we hadn't thought of independent expenditures and issue advertising and other things that crept out, so if we'd capped spending it would have mushroomed out from somewhere else. I agree with everybody here who has said this is the major thing that can lead to corruption and the rest of this is extremely minor. But until somebody can figure out what you do about the constitutional interpretation in Buckley v. Valeo, I think all you're going to do is come up with increasingly complex and convoluted schemes that ultimately won't work.
And maybe, and I can't think of a constitutional amendment in my lifetime I've supported, but I think that we may need to very carefully -- and we could put some scholars to work on how this might be done. But a very narrow kind of constitutional amendment that would permit some limitation on campaign spending, some limitation on how much of your own money you can spend so the rich candidate isn't -- and the kind of issue you're talking about. I think we may just be chasing our tail unless we finally sit down and say are we willing to do something responsible in amending the Constitution. The rest of it I think we're just kidding ourselves.
SEN. LOTT: Why is it that former members of Congress become so wise.
MR. WERTHEIMER: Well, I would add --
MR. SWIFT: Because I don't have to have anybody vote for me having said that.
MR. WERTHEIMER: I worked at this issue on the time that Representative Swift was working on it and I'm glad to see that we still disagree about this.
SEN. DODD: Well, there is -- you know, Fritz Hollings, of course, former colleague of ours here as you'll recall year in and year out would raise the exact point, Al, that you've raised here and we never got very far with it. But the whole notion that money is speech has always been at the heart of the Buckley decision. And I've always had a great deal of difficulty with that notion. I mean, money buys you a bigger megaphone but the notion that it's speech -- and so I've always been attracted to that idea to some degree. But in the absence of that, and I don't think a constitutional amendment is actually going to make it through, then the public financing idea is the one that -- some form of that as we've done with the presidential race, although that's falling apart, and as Fred points out, needs to be repaired, is I think the only probably viable alternative if we could ever go with any bipartisan support for that notion.
MR. SWIFT: And I've believed that for a long time, but if you can still have issue advertising, if you can still have independent expenditures, you will have capped the money here, the money's going to flow in the other place and you will have an even more difficult, it seems to me, way of controlling it. In fact then I think the candidates begin to lose control of the campaigns and the campaigns are fought out by third parties.
SEN. LOTT: Absolutely. Well, look, you've been very patient. You've been a good panel. Thank you all very much for attending this hearing and we expect to go to a markup the week of the 27th of this month.
Hearing is adjourned.