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House Passes Lobbying Accountability Bill Containing Earmark Reform

Location: Washington, DC

House Passes Lobbying Accountability Bill Containing Earmark Reform

WASHINGTON - Wisconsin's First District Congressman Paul Ryan and other activists for greater transparency and fiscal discipline in the congressional budget process achieved a victory today when the House of Representatives approved legislation that included earmark reforms they had advocated. These reforms would shine the light of day on earmarks, making Members of Congress accountable for the spending projects they propose, and enable any Member to challenge last-minute earmarks inserted as legislation is finalized in House-Senate conference committee.

These provisions were part of a broader lobbying accountability bill (H.R. 4975) that passed the House today by a vote of 217-213. Congressman Ryan voted in favor of this legislation.

"I have been fighting to bring transparency and accountability to the way Congress spends taxpayers' money since I came to Congress. This reform does just that and I look forward to bringing my legislative line-item veto bill to the House floor in June along with other reforms to help us balance the budget," Ryan said. "Shining sunlight on earmarks will discourage wasteful spending and help the public hold Members of Congress accountable for any spending projects they add to bills. If an earmark is tucked into legislation, the reforms we approved today would expose it and allow it to be challenged. This is just one step in a series of reforms we are advancing to transform the congressional budget process to save taxpayer dollars and clamp down on unnecessary government spending."

Today, if a new earmark is inserted into a spending bill very late in the process, during the House-Senate conference stage, Members of Congress do not have the ability to challenge that earmark. They can only vote for or against the entire conference report. With the reforms included in H.R. 4975, any Member of Congress could challenge an earmark throughout the legislative process, including cases where earmarks have been "air dropped" in by conferees without prior House or Senate consideration.

H.R. 4975 also brings earmarks into the open by requiring a list of earmarks, including the sponsor's name, to be included in a general appropriations bill or a report accompanying that bill's report. Furthermore, it requires the statement of managers accompanying a conference report to include a listing of earmarks not included in either House or Senate bill, not included in the list of earmarks accompanying the House report, and not included in the Senate report of the companion bill.

Among its other provisions, H.R. 4975, the Lobbying Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 would:

Enhance lobbying disclosure by requiring quarterly filing by lobbyists (up from the current twice a year), and requiring filings to be electronic and accessible through a searchable and sortable online, public database.

Require registered lobbyists to disclose contributions to federal candidates, leadership PACs and other PACs, political party committees, and the amount and date of any gift that counts toward the cumulative limit.

Raise the civil penalty for failure to report from $50,000 to $100,000 and adds a criminal penalty of up to three years for willingly and knowingly failing to comply with the provisions of the act.

Require Members of Congress to notify the Ethics Committee within five days when a Member begins salary negotiations with an employer and requires a Member to refrain from voting if it creates a conflict of interest.

Restate current rules that Members of Congress may not condition official acts based on the employment decision of an outside entity.

Require the Ethics Committee to report recommendations on gift and travel rules to the Rules Committee by December 15, 2006.

Require written certification from the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Standards of Official Conduct before a Member or Member's staff may accept travel expenses related to his or her official duties.

Increase oversight of lobbying and enforcement by requiring random audits of lobbying reports filed by lobbyists by the House Inspector General and permitting the House Inspector General to refer violations by lobbyists to the U.S. Department of Justice for prosecution.

Take away the government's contributions to the congressional pension of a Member of Congress, if that Member is convicted of bribery or acting as a foreign agent (including conspiracy charges) while the individual is a Member of Congress.

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