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  xTuesday, April 15, 2003

house committee nixes ethics rules


I rarely have reason to praise Republicans, but it's credit-where-due time: The House Ethics Committee has issued guidelines that restrict lawmakers' ability to accept bribes gifts of food and travel from lobbyists. Back in January, GOP leaders had loosened ethics rules--originally imposed by Republicans, no less--so Congresscritters and their staffs could accept gifts of food and travel from lobbyists, even ones with pending legislation being considered.
The letter...warns that there are "a number of considerations" lawmakers and aides must take into account before accepting gifts under the new rules. Food, for example, "must be refused entirely if the person offering it has a direct interest in the particular legislation or other official business on which the staff is working at the time."

As for charity events, members and staff can attend for up to two nights, and all of the event's net proceeds must go to the charity. Invitations must come from the charity itself, not from an event participant or donor that might want to influence legislation in Congress.

When Republicans gained the House majority in 1995, they cracked down on congressional perks, prohibiting lawmakers and aides from accepting gifts worth more than $50 from a single source at one time, with a cap of $100 a year. These standards became relaxed over time, and in January, House leaders created what they called the "pizza rule." It allowed the value of any catered meal to be divided by the number of people consuming it.

That practice allowed lobbyists representing the pharmaceutical industry, for example, to deliver dinner to the staff of Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) the night the House was voting on prescription drug legislation. It also enabled trade lobbyists to send pizza to the office of Rep. Calvin M. Dooley (D-Calif.) the night they were huddling with members of Dooley's staff regarding trade legislation. Neither of these meals would be permissible under the ethics committee's new rules.

Ethics committee chairman Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), who was reportedly outraged by the loopholes, joined ranking Democrat Alan B. Mollohan (W.Va.) in issuing the restrictions. Good on him--it's glad to see that the unabashed pandering to lobbyists and corporate interests of the GOP leadership isn't shared by the entire party.





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