Tuesday, May 29, 2007

House bites bullet, does the right thing

In the several days late department: Thanks to pressure from Democratic freshmen, the House finally passed its ethics legislation on Thursday, overcoming earlier objections from some senior members.

The new proposals, which in the end passed overwhelmingly, would expand the information available about how business is done on Capitol Hill and make it available online. They would provide expanded, more frequent and Internet-accessible reporting of lobbyist-paid contributions and sponsorships, and would for the first time impose prison terms for criminal rule-breakers. They would also require strict new disclosure of "bundled" campaign contributions that lobbyists collect and pass on to lawmakers' campaigns. Yesterday's legislation passed 396 to 22.

The bundling provision was a big stumbling block, and perhaps the measure's most important aspect. But Democrats jettisoned several other provisions, including a two-year wait before legislators can become lobbyists (the wait currently is one year).

But all in all, the bill greatly improves transparency about money and access, which is the key to any sort of serious reform.

Now that the House and Senate have finally passed their respective ethics measures, they have to reconcile them in conference committee. The next thing to watch for is what gets kept and what gets tossed during those negotiations. Once the final bill emerges and passes, we'll be able to judge precisely how the Democrats fared on this central campaign promise.

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