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Family Ties

Neither the House nor the Senate regulates lobbying by Members’ families, but a Los Angeles Times series last month on the extent of the activity and the appearance of impropriety it involves demands that the two chambers’ ethics committees begin to fashion some rules.

From time to time Roll Call, too, has tracked lobbying by Members’ relatives. But the Times has done so exhaustively — and has itemized numerous clear cases in which the relatives are receiving fat fees from special interests that manifestly benefit from legislative action taken by the Member.

While the tightest connections appear to involve Sens. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), John Breaux (D-La.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.), there are 17 Senators and 11 House Members who have relatives in the lobbying business. The lawmakers have wildly varying policies on how they deal with the special interests involved — because, as we said, there are no rules to guide them.

As documented by the Times on June 23, lobbying firms employing Reid’s four sons and his son-in-law have collected more than $1.5 million in fees from various Nevada real estate, gambling, mining and chemical companies that have been beneficiaries of Reid’s legislative activities. Stevens’ son has reported collecting $378,000 in fees from Alaskan fisheries, oil contractors and the Special Olympics, all of which have been helped by Stevens.

As the Times recounted, Breaux’s son “has reported nearly $1 million in lobbying and consulting fees in just more than two years of being in business for himself … after an apprenticeship often spent working for clients who counted on his father’s support.” Hatch’s son’s firm reported income of $930,000 in 2002, heavily from dietary supplement makers and pharmaceutical companies whose interests Hatch has protected. And Lott’s son, working part-time, has begun collecting fees from communications companies and shipyards helped by his father.

Everyone involved, of course, routinely denies any nefarious connection between the hiring of a relative and the Member’s assistance. But these family ties reek of favoritism and nepotism — if not some sort of indirect bribery. Serious attention has to be paid to the pattern and rules adopted to regulate it.

Reid, once the Times began investigating his family, developed a rule that his relatives were not to directly lobby him or his staff. Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and his wife have a rule that she will not personally lobby Senators. Many Members — including Reps. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), Robert Matsui (D-Calif.) and John Mica (R-Fla.) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) — say they refrain from sponsoring any legislation that affects the relative’s interest. It strikes us that this no-sponsorship rule should be adopted Congress-wide — and officially mandated by the House and Senate.

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