MAKING AVAILABLE FUNDS FOR THE LOW-INCOME HOME ENERGY ASSISTANCE PROGRAM, 2006--Continued
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I rise today to again address the very important issue of lobby reform and to applaud the efforts of many, particularly the bipartisan working group on which I was proud to serve--coming together and working hard to produce good lobby reform packages that will very soon be on the floor of the Senate.
As I have said since the beginning of this discussion spanning several weeks, in so many ways there is no more important threshold issue to the functioning of our democracy and the health of this institution of Congress than these important reform issues. Clearly, they go to the heart and soul of our integrity and our own credibility.
How can we address any other major national issue, whether it is health care, prescription drugs, foreign policy, or defense unless we have that core, central principle of integrity and credibility with the people?
Unfortunately, we have lost that credibility to some significant extent over the past years because of some horrible situations and scandals that have developed.
It is very appropriate and very necessary that we act as an institution to address these abuses and potential abuses which we need to stop from happening in the future.
As I said, I was very proud to serve on an informal working group--Republicans and Democrats coming together with this common purpose to address these central questions, to bring real meaningful, strong reform to our institutions, to develop consensus, not to play political partisan games but to develop real consensus and pass important legislation that could have major support on both sides of the aisle.
I very much enjoyed that work with leaders on this issue--Senators COLLINS, LOTT, MCCAIN, SANTORUM, KYL, and ISAKSON--of course, all those Republicans--joined by Senators LIEBERMAN, OBAMA, DODD, and FEINGOLD, Democrats, as well as myself, a Republican, coming together to address this very crucial issue.
We are about to put this legislation on the floor of the Senate, hopefully, very soon, later today. I encourage all of my colleagues--Republicans and Democrats alike--to again come together for an important debate, to make a proposal about how to improve this legislation but to support the underlying bills which include major systemic reform. That is what I am going to do. That is why I joined this working group from the very beginning. That is why I participated in the discussions and debate which led to the bills coming to the floor.
In addition to that, I am going to do what I mentioned a little while ago, participate in the debate on the floor and make some proposals to strengthen the bill, to make it even better before we report it out from the Senate.
In doing that, I am going to make three specific proposals in areas which I think we need to address that are not in the underlying bill. I again want to outline those three proposals very briefly.
The first has to do with an unfortunate scenario which has happened in the past of spouses and children of Members of Congress, House Members, Senators, getting a paycheck off that Member's reelection campaign. This has happened in the past. It is not some theoretical issue. In fact, family members have made substantial sums in the past in some instances off the campaign of the family member who is also a Member of Congress.
I talk to folks back home in Louisiana all the time. When these circumstances made the newspaper a few months ago, I can tell you what the universal reaction was. The universal reaction was this is abuse. There was no discussion about what these family members were doing, weren't doing, what hours they were lobbying, weren't lobbying. The universal reaction was this was a way for the Member of Congress to basically increase his family income through the political process and is an abuse.
I think the solution is really simple. I will have an amendment that proposes that solution. It is simply this: Ban it; to say a Member of Congress, the House, or the Senate can't have a spouse, can't have a dependent child on the campaign payroll. That is the simplest way to address it. That is the most direct way to address it. That will put the whole issue to rest for once and forever.
Certainly, the huge majority of Members should embrace this idea because it would never cross our minds, quite frankly, a huge majority of Members, to do this. Let us put this potential abuse and real abuse in the past to rest forever.
I encourage all of my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, to support this floor amendment.
The second floor amendment addresses another very important area of campaign finance that has also been in the news; that is, with regard to Indian tribes.
Again, this is not some theoretical discussion. This is not dreaming up a problem. This has been at the heart of the recent scandals and controversies which bring us to where we are today.
In my opinion, a central problem is the fact that in current law Indian tribes, with regard to campaign contributions to Federal candidates, are treated in a whole different way than similar entities such as corporations, such as labor unions.
With regard to corporations and labor unions, there are very clear and very strict laws that apply in terms of how those entities can raise PAC money, campaign funds that they can turn into political contributions and the overall limit that applies to a single corporation--a single labor union with regard to political contributions that election season. Those rules don't apply to Indian tribes.
When it comes to Indian tribes, those rules I just referenced are out the window and basically no rules apply. There is no governance of how tribes collect and raise funds to give to political candidates. In fact, with so many having very lucrative casinos now, what they do is real simple. They write a check out of the casino operation and fund the entire political operation from which they give campaign contributions. Corporations can't do that--absolutely not. Labor unions can't even do that. I think the rules should be the same for Indian tribes.
Likewise, the limits on campaign contributions should be the same as well. There should be an aggregate, an overall limit for what a specific tribe can give to Federal candidates just as there is for corporations through their PACS, just as there is for labor unions through their PACs.
Again, I will offer a floor amendment that is pretty darned simple and pretty easy to understand. It will basically say those same rules that apply with regard to the sources of funds and disclosure and aggregate limits that apply to corporations and labor unions, those exact same rules will apply in exactly the same way to Indian tribes.
Third and finally, I will propose on the floor another amendment which relates to Members' families and the ability in some circumstances of a Member to increase his family income through involvement in lobby shops by a spouse.
I think it is very important in this instance to distinguish between what I consider two pretty different cases. The one case is where a spouse was a registered lobbyist, a professional with expertise and professional background well before the Member was ever elected to office, or well before the marriage between the Member and the spouse ever occurred. In my mind, that is a very different situation than when a spouse gets into the lobbying business after the Member is elected or after the marriage occurs with a Member already being elected.
In the first case, that spouse was a professional with background and expertise in this area well before the marriage happened or the Member was elected. In the second case, the cart came way before the horse. It is that second case I am concerned about, and it is that second case on which I believe we should pass a blanket ban that such a person shouldn't get into the lobbying business even after the Member was elected.
Again, I think people back home view that sort of case pretty darned simply. It is a way for direct family members to get involved in lobby shops, and through that route directly supplementing that Member's family income.
That absolutely tears at the integrity, at the credibility of our institutions, and I believe we must act to restore that credibility and integrity.
Again, this is not some theoretical discussion. I wish it were. This is not some problem made up out of the blue. This is a practice that has happened before, that has been in the headlines, that has been in the news. So let us address it directly, boldly, and be done with it.
In closing, I thank all of the leaders who came together in the important working group on lobby reform that I mentioned, particularly Senators COLLINS, LOTT, MCCAIN, SANTORUM, KYL, and ISAKSON, and Senators LIEBERMAN, OBAMA, DODD, and FEINGOLD. I worked closely with them. I believe the product we will bring to the Senate very soon, under the leadership of the two committee chairs, Senators Collins and Lott, is a strong, meaningful, worthwhile product.
I hope we all come to this important debate with additional ideas. I hope we add to the bill and improve it, including through the three floor amendments I just outlined, and then report an even stronger and even better bill out of the Senate to address this crucial issue.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.