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Democrats Seek Lobbying Curbs

Democratic Senators will call today for tighter restrictions on government employees who become lobbyists, recommending the revocation of floor privileges for former Senators working on K Street and a lengthening of the current one-year “cooling off” period.

The new proposals are part of a broader “responsible governance” campaign being promoted by Democrats as the party attempts to position itself as the protector of political ethics leading into the 2006 elections.

“America deserves a government as good as its people, and Democrats are committed to leading the way,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “We’re going to put an end to the culture of corruption and cronyism in Washington, D.C., and put a culture of candor and openness in its place.”

In addition to restricting access to the Senate floor, Democrats are proposing that Members publicly disclose when they are in employment negotiations, require lobbyists to file disclosure reports more often and forbid Members “from wrongfully influencing … employment decisions or practices in exchange for political access.”

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), a former state attorney general, will head the Senate Democratic effort to rein in lobbyist influence. He will be paired with Sen. Byron Dorgan (N.D.), who has been using his position as Democratic Policy Committee chairman to look into federal contracting abuses in Iraq.

Reid and his Senate colleagues will be joined by House Democrats who are advocating similar limitations on lobbyists in their chamber.

Earlier this year, Reps. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) and Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) introduced a measure to overhaul federal lobbying regulations. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) offered a similar bill this summer and Senate Democrats will be using aspects of it, said Rebecca Kirszner, Reid’s spokeswoman.

Later this month, Dorgan said he plans to extend his probe to investigate the misuse of taxpayer dollars in the cleanup and reconstruction of the Gulf Coast. Dorgan contends that Congressional Republicans refuse to perform adequate oversight of the executive branch because it is a GOP administration.

“There are a lot of things that really need to be explored and the oversight function is nonexistent,” Dorgan said. “There is not a lot of appetite to do routine oversight.”

Amy Call, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), said the Senator would consider any measure offered by the Democrats.

“Certainly we will look at whatever proposal they bring forward,” Call said, as she noted that Democrats have not yet presented them with the plan.

While not disagreeing with the ultimate goal to lessen lobbyists’ influence in the nation’s capital, some Republicans questioned the Democrats’ true motivations to reform the system.

“Everything they do is about the politics and getting press,” charged a senior Republican aide. “It is not about the policy.”

The Democrats’ push comes as several federal and state law enforcement agencies investigate the actions of at least three Republicans and one Democrat on issues ranging from the relationship between Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) with a defense contractor to the African business dealings by Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) and questions about stock sales earlier this year by Frist.

The most high-profile investigation, though, centers on Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who faces criminal allegations of violating Texas election law. The indictments have forced DeLay to vacate his position as House Majority Leader until the case is resolved.

On the lobbying front, the relationship between Members and powerful K Street figures has come under intense scrutiny in light of allegations that uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff traded on his political connections with DeLay and other senior Republicans to bilk Indian tribes of tens of millions of dollars.