August 02, 2007

S. 1, LEGISLATIVE TRANSPARENCY & ACCOUNTABILITY ACT

            Mr. President, I rise in strong support of S. 1, the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007.   I urge my colleagues to support this measure, which is the most sweeping reform of ethics and lobbying laws and rules in many years.

 

            I am pleased that we have worked in a bipartisan fashion on ethics and lobbying reform.   The American people made their views clear in last year's election, and sent a strong message to Congress to clean up our act.

 

            In January the Senate passed this legislation as our first order of business by a vote of 96 to 2, and the House followed suit by a vote of 411 to 8 earlier this week.   I hope that the Senate will once again give overwhelming, bipartisan approval of this legislation, and send it to the President for his signature into law.

 

            I have been privileged to serve as a legislator - first in the Maryland House of Delegates, then in the United States House of Representatives, and now in the United States Senate. I appreciate the trust that the people of Maryland placed in me. And I appreciate how important it is that we adhere to the strictest ethical standards. The American people need to believe their government is on the up and up.

            The legislation represents a significant change in the way elected officials, senior staff, and lobbyists would do business.


            When it comes to how we treat ourselves, this legislation provides much greater transparency in earmarking.   It requires that the sponsors of all earmarks (including limited tax and tariff benefits) that are inserted into bills and conference reports be identified on the Internet at least 48 hours before a Senate vote.   The bill requires Senators to certify that they and their immediate family members have no financial interest in the earmark.   The bill also creates a point of order against new earmarks added in conference reports for the first time.

 

            When it comes to making how Congress works more transparent, the bill requires conference reports to be available for public review on the Internet 48 hours before a Senate vote.   It ends the practice of secret Senate holds which can kill legislation or nominations.   It requires all Senate committees and subcommittees to post video recordings, audio recordings, or transcripts of all public meetings on the Internet.

 

            This legislation makes needed reforms to the lobbying industry as well.   The bill prohibits lobbyists and their clients from giving gifts, including free meals and tickets, to Senators and their staffs.   It requires Senators to pay charter rates for trips on private planes.   The bill prohibits Senators and their staff from accepting multi-day private travel from registered lobbyists.   It requires much greater transparency for lobbyist bundling and political campaign fund activity.   The bill requires lobbyists' disclosure filings to be filed quarterly instead of semi-annually, and requires these disclosures to be filed electronically and in a publicly searchable Internet database.   It increases civil and criminal penalties for lobbyists who break the law.

 

            The bill also takes major stops in slowing the revolving door between Members of Congress, staff, and the private sector.   It stops partisan attempts like the "K Street Project" to influence private-sector hiring.   It strengthens the revolving door restrictions by increase the cooling off period for Senators from one to two years before they can lobby Congress, and prohibits senior Senate staff from lobbying contacts within the entire Senate for one year.   It eliminates floor, parking, and gym privileges for former Members who become lobbyists.

 

            Finally, the bill holds members of Congress and staff accountable by making ongoing ethics training mandatory for Members and staff.   It increases civil and criminal penalties for Members of Congress and senior staff who falsify or fail to report items on their financial disclosure forms.   It denies Congressional retirement benefits to Members of Congress who are convicted of serious crimes related to their official duties, such as bribery.

 

            Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis' famous dictum still holds true today: "Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants." The leadership and Members of Congress will have delivered on their promise to the American people by passing this bill.   That is what the American people have asked us to do, and that is what we need to do to regain their trust.