WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives, where Democrats won power last year amid a spate of mostly Republican scandals, overwhelmingly approved legislation on Tuesday to toughen congressional ethics and lobbying rules and laws.
Key provisions require greater disclosure of pet projects slipped into massive spending measures, prohibit pensions to lawmakers convicted of bribery and require disclosure of campaign donations lobbyists collect for members of Congress.
On a vote of 411-8, the House passed the measure and sent it to the Senate for anticipated final approval. A number of Senate Republicans, whose party controlled Congress much of the past decade, have complained the measure does not go far enough, but a Senate aide said most Republicans appeared to support it.
Advocacy groups have urged its passage. If the Senate gives it final congressional approval, President George W. Bush is expected to sign the legislation into law.
“Today is a proud day for this body, and a dramatic example of how the Congress that was elected last November pledging to clean up the ‘culture of corruption’ is making good on its promise,” declared House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland.
The House vote came a day after federal agents raided the Alaska home of Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest serving Republican in U.S. Senate in history and former chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee that doles out federal dollars.
Stevens, 83, is a subject of a grand-jury investigation into his links with managers of VECO Corp., the state’s largest oil-services company, as well as numerous unrelated fisheries matters. The senator has denied any wrongdoing.
While the war in Iraq was a major factor in last year’s congressional elections, so was what Democrats denounced as a Republican “culture of corruption” in Congress.
Republican Reps. Bob Ney of Ohio and Randy “Duke” Cunningham of California were convicted of bribery, and Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty in an influence-peddling scandal.
But the problems were not confined to Republicans. Democratic Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana was indicted on bribery charges this year after $90,000 was found in his freezer. He has pleaded innocent.
A key feature of the House-passed bill is greater disclosure of what has become an explosion of pet projects, known as earmarks, placed in big spending bills.
According to Public Citizen, in fiscal 2005 there were 15,877 earmarks in the federal budget worth $47.4 billion, compared to 4,126 earmarks worth $29.6 billion in fiscal 1994.
The bill would require that all earmarks, along with their sponsors, be identified on the Internet before final congressional passage so that they could be challenged.
The measure would also prohibit members from attending lobbyist-paid parties in their honor at national political conventions and prohibit lobbyists from providing members gifts or travel.
But Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, complained Democrats dropped several proposed provisions, including one that would have banned congressional employees who were lobbyists from engaging in business with former employers. “The Democratic pledge of reform is sinking fast,” Smith said.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California drafted the measure after lawmakers haggled over changes and Republicans blocked efforts to begin final negotiations on ethics and lobbying bills earlier passed by the two chambers.