January 19, 2007

STATEMENT OF SENATOR BENJAMIN L. CARDIN (D-MD)ON S. 1, THE LEGISLATIVE TRANSPARENCY & ACCOUNTABILITY ACT

Mr. President:

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.

I served on the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct from 1991 to 1997. I served as the ranking member of the adjudicative subcommittee that investigated and ultimately recommended sanctions against former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. In 1997 the House leadership appointed me to serve as the Co-Chairman of the House Ethics Reform Task Force, with my colleague Bob Livingston from Louisiana. Our bipartisan task force came up with a comprehensive set of reforms to overhaul the ethics process. We created a bipartisan package to change House and committee rules. This was the last bipartisan effort in the House to fix ethics procedures. Unfortunately, the ethics process in the House broke down after that.

Here in the Senate, there has been more bipartisan cooperation when it comes to ethics reform. Last year, the Senate voted 90-8 to approve a reform bill. And were getting off to a good start this year, with both the Democratic Leader and the Republican Leader co-sponsoring both S. 1 and the substitute amendment. Members on both sides of the aisle have been given ample opportunity to offer amendments and have them considered.

As amended, S. 1 represents a significant change in the way elected officials, senior staff, and lobbyists would do business change the American people are demanding.

When it comes to how we treat ourselves, this legislation revokes the pensions of Members convicted of bribing public officials and witnesses, perjury, and other crimes. S. 1 bans gifts and meals from lobbyists. It slows down the revolving door by extending lobbying bans for former Members and staff. It eliminates floor privileges for former Members who become lobbyists. And it stops partisan attempts like the K Street Project to influence private-sector hiring. The bill makes ethics training mandatory for Members and staff.

When it comes to making how Congress works more transparent, this legislation shines a spotlight on earmarks, targeted tax breaks, and tariff reduction bills, to make it clear whos offering them, and on whose behalf. S. 1 ensures that the minority will get to participate in conference committees, and that conference reports cant be changed after theyre signed by a majority of the conferees. The bill requires that conference reports have to be posted on the Internet 48 hours prior to consideration so that Members of Congress, staff, and the public can find out whats in them.

When it comes to how lobbyists are to act, this legislation puts an end to the lavish parties they throw in our honor at the national conventions. S. 1 quadruples the penalty for failure to comply with the requirements of the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995. It requires lobbyists to file quarterly reports instead of semi-annually. And it directs the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives to maintain on the Internet a publicly available database of lobbying disclosure information.

Im pleased to report that the bill contains an amendment Senator Coleman from Minnesota and I offered to require the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives to establish a website freely available to the public that will contain easy-to-understand information on all officially-related Congressional travel subject to disclosure under the gift rules.

During the debate on S. 1, we have heard over and over again former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famous dictum, Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants, because it is so true. Thats the direction were moving in by passing this bill. Thats what the American people want us to do, and thats what we need to do to regain their trust.