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With mounting ethics allegations against House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-Texas) and an inexhaustible narrative about GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the climate in Congress for lobbying reform is heating up. But lobbyists themselves are divided over what new rules, if any, are needed. While some say lobbying laws need to be clarified by Congress, the first bill on the issue this session � a measure backed by Democratic Reps. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois and Martin Meehan of Massachusetts � is already being panned by opponents as being too strong and too restrictive. Much of the sudden urgency over lobbying reform stems from issues surrounding travel by lobbyists and lawmakers. Most agree that the rules are unclear. House Republican leaders have indicated they would consider tightening some of the rules on lobbying and travel. They are currently weighing a proposal to have the House Ethics Committee preapprove private travel arrangements between lawmakers and lobbyists. Also, lawmakers are considering legislation that would restrict the floor privileges of ex-members, according to Roll Call. Yet Emanuel and Meehan’s legislation faces an uphill fight. It’s a Democratic bill aimed at what, so far, has been a problem primarily for the GOP leadership. And some lobbyists are already chafing at its provisions. “There does need to be a lot of clarification, but it seems a bit absurd that I can buy someone lunch here in D.C., but if I’m on a trip with them in Chicago, I’m precluded from doing that,” says Larry Smith, a Republican lobbyist who is president of Legislative Strategies Inc. The legislation, unveiled at a May 4 news conference, would require registered lobbyists to disclose which members of Congress they have contacted, and it would double the one-year waiting period for members and senior congressional staff to lobby their ex-colleagues on the Hill. “There’s been a breaking down of the walls and lines, and we are saying you have to separate the professional lobbying community from what we do here in Congress,” says Emanuel. House Republicans have also balked at supporting the legislation if Emanuel continues to remain as a co-sponsor. Emanuel chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Republicans say his association with the measure is suspect, since the DCCC plans to capitalize on ethical conduct as a campaign issue to try to win control of the House of Representatives. Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who chairs the House Administration Committee, which would have authority over the proposed bill, told The Hill newspaper that few will “take Rahm seriously on this issue.” Emanuel has since offered to take his name off the legislation if House Republicans allow it to have a vote. Brian Walsh, a spokesman for Ney, tells Legal Times that the congressman “wants to sit down in the next few weeks with members who are sincere about the issue.” “Ney may not always agree with Meehan, but he believes he’s a man of integrity who has the best interest of the House as an institution,” says Walsh. Paul Miller, president of the American League of Lobbyists, says that it is unlikely Meehan and Emanuel are backing the bill for political reasons, but adds that the lawmakers never contacted his association for help in drafting the measure. “Why not include the lobbying profession so we can help tighten the rules and help put the resources behind them where they are needed?” asks Miller, whose group recently called for a General Accountability Office review of rules governing financial disclosures by lobbyists. “We can be a good resource,” says Miller. “Right now, the bill is all over the map and I don’t think you can get a broad group of people to support it.” Gerald Cassidy, chairman of the largest all-lobby shop in Washington, Cassidy & Associates, says the best type of reform may be one that speeds up the process of public disclosure. Currently, it can take weeks or months before public records on lobbyist activities are ready for public consumption. “I’m a believer in transparency,” says Cassidy. “With technology, you ought to be able to make things public immediately. And then I think you could have the same sort of reporting with travel.” Jeffrey Trammell, president of Trammell and Co., a lobbying and legislative consulting firm, says that while “disclosure is the most powerful weapon,” there is already a solid infrastructure of rules for lobbyists to follow. “If people followed the existing lobbying laws, a lot of these problems wouldn’t be there,” says Trammell, a Democrat. The lobbying community isn’t uniformly opposed to a legislative fix. “For those of us in law firms where we have to abide by very stringent ethics, both lobbying- and gift-related, we chafe when we see our competitors deliberately flouting the rules,” says a lobbyist who spoke on condition of anonymity. Steve Elmendorf of Bryan Cave Strategies adds that “quicker disclosure is really the best reform. . . . Congress changes when voters know what you are doing.” But with heightened anxiety on the Hill over lobbying ethics and the super-charged atmosphere surrounding DeLay, a fast fix may just cause more problems, says Cormac Group partner Jonathan Slade. “It’s become too politicized to look at from an objective perspective,” says Slade. “It’s bad to legislate when ethics are so polarized and emotions are running so high.” Joe Crea is a reporter for Influence , Legal Times ‘ sister publication, where a version of this article first appeared. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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