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House, in Image Booster, Votes to Curb Influence of Lobbyists

March 25, 1994|WILLIAM J. EATON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — In a move designed to improve the public's image of Congress, the House voted Thursday to require lobbyists to disclose contacts with lawmakers and to bar them from buying meals, travel or gifts for lawmakers and their aides.

The bill, similar to a measure adopted by the Senate last May, sailed through by a vote of 315 to 110 on a fast-track procedure that required at least a two-thirds majority to pass.

A Senate-House conference is expected to reconcile differences and send the legislation back for ratification by both chambers after a two-week Easter recess.

Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) made a rare floor speech to urge passage of the legislation, declaring that voters think members of Congress are unduly influenced by representatives of special interests.

Some critics complained that the bill does not go far enough in curbing possible abuses while others argued that it goes too far, suggesting that lawmakers' votes could be bought for the price of a dinner.

"You have loopholes here you could drive a lobbyist's limousine through," said Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), referring to some exemptions for clients of lobbyists.

Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, had rushed the bill to the floor in response to a request by the House leadership but he said that he does not think it is needed.

But Rep. Vic Fazio (D-West Sacramento) declared: "This (bill) is an important step, not because I believe there is a widespread problem in this institution, but because there is a perception that highly paid lobbyists wine and dine members of Congress into supporting whatever cause they promote.

"Every member . . . came here for a reason. No one came here for a free lunch," Fazio said.

The bill would require all professional lobbyists to register if they try to influence high officials of the executive branch, members of Congress or staff aides on changes in federal policy or legislation.

Lobbyists who are paid less than $2,500 in a six-month period and those who spend less than 10% of their time on lobbying would be exempt from the registration requirement.

Estimates of total lobbying expenses as well as detailed disclosures of the issues or bills being targeted also would be required.

The legislation would bar lobbyists or lobbying firms from paying for meals, entertainment, travel or gifts to members of Congress and their staffs.

Despite objections by Common Cause, the citizens' lobby, the bill includes two major exceptions to the new rules.

Clients of lobbyists would be able to pay for travel and related expenses for a lawmaker if they disclosed the expenses and the name of the member of Congress in semiannual reports.

Meals and entertainment also could be provided by clients of lobbyists to lawmakers and their aides under some circumstances, particularly when the client is attending the event.

The bill also would require registration of anyone who directs a form of lobbying known as "grass-roots" campaigns to generate support or opposition to legislation in a congressional district or home state of a senator.

Disclosure reports would have to be filed twice a year with a new agency--the Office of Lobbying Registration and Public Disclosure, whose director would be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate for a five-year term.

Civil penalties--including fines up to $10,000 for minor violations and up to $200,000 for major violations of the law--would enforce the disclosure requirements.

In addition, the bill would change House rules to prohibit lawmakers and their aides from knowingly accepting a gift, meal, travel or entertainment that is forbidden by the legislation.

A total of 203 Democrats, 111 Republicans and one independent voted for the bill. It was opposed by 60 Democrats and 50 Republicans.

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