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Senate Hawks Plan to Push Earmark Disclosure Vote Next Week

Senate GOP fiscal hawks today warned Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that next Tuesday they will try again to force the chamber to put in place new financial conflict of interest disclosure rules governing earmark requests by lawmakers.

In a letter sent this morning to Reid and McConnell, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said that while he had originally been willing to include the new rules in the chamber’s broader ethics package, “recent events indicate that the new Congress may be less inclined to shine light on the congressional favor factory than it previously claimed.”

Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) joined DeMint on the letter.

The disclosure rules would require Members to detail any financial conflicts of interest they may have with earmarks they are pursuing and would make those notifications public.

In the letter, DeMint and his fellow hawks point out that earmark request letters sent out by the Appropriations subcommittees did not include the proposed disclosure rules included in the Senate’s ethics package.

“These events clearly demonstrate that it’s time for the Senate to stop dragging its feet on this critical issue,” the lawmakers wrote, adding, “No one opposed this rule when it was put to a roll call vote earlier this year and no one should object to it now.”

DeMint tried to use an unanimous consent agreement just prior to the April recess to put the new rules in place. Although DeMint was able to hotline the UC on the Republican side, Democrats blocked it.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) objected for the majority, claiming that despite numerous news stories and notifications from DeMint that he intended to seek the UC, Democrats had not been given adequate time to review the proposed agreement.

A GOP aide said DeMint wrote today’s letter to ensure Democrats were fully aware of his intentions and to ensure opponents could not use a lack of notification as justification to oppose the rules. If a Member objects, “someone needs to come forward and say they changed their minds,” the aide said.

Although current conflict of interest rules apply to staff as well as Members, the new proposed disclosure requirements would not cover aides, an oversight watchdog groups have questioned recently.

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