Review of H.R. 2316: Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007

Here’s a quick run-down of H.R. 2316: Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 [text], which the House passed May 24 with an overwhelming majority. It goes to the Senate next.

Let’s start with the great news: A lobbying disclosure database would be mandated:

Sec 208. “[The Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives shall] maintain, and make available to the public over the Internet, without a fee or other access charge, in a searchable, sortable, and downloadable manner, an electronic database that– (A) includes the information contained in registrations and reports filed under this Act; (B) directly links the information it contains to the information disclosed in reports filed with the Federal Election Commission under section 304 of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (2 U.S.C. 434); and (C) is searchable and sortable to the maximum extent practicable, including searchable and sortable by each of the categories of information described in section 4(b) or 5(b)”

Section 402 adds to that public Internet access to “The advance authorizations, certifications, and disclosures filed with respect to transportation, lodging, and related expenses for travel . . . by Members . . ., officers, and employees.”

Then the good but not very exciting to me news: Title 2 increases the frequency of some lobbying disclosure reports from 6 months to 3 months, and lowers dollar-amount thresholds of what needs to be reported, thus making more things required to be reported. Unfortunately the bill refers to existing law and I’d have to read that to see what in particular is affected, but I don’t have time to do that now. The title also requires electronic filing of lobbing reports, includes requests for earmarks as items to be reported, and requires the reporting of lobbyists contributions to members of congress over a certain threshold (as I understand it). The title also bans travel gifts wholesale.

Now for what I think is probably pointless:

Title 1 adds some restrictions on how former members of congress can be employed, in an attempt to close the “revolving door” where former members use their connections to lobby. I don’t know enough about this to really evaluate the bill on these grounds, but I’m skeptical that it would have any meaningful impact. Other sections of the bill increase civil and criminal penalties for violating some of the existing provisions.

My favorite amendment (that I commented on two posts ago) made it into the bill. If you don’t say “duh” after reading this, don’t run for office, please!

It is the sense of the Congress that the use of a family relationship by a lobbyist who is an immediate family member of a Member of Congress to gain special advantages over other lobbyists is inappropriate.

And it works both ways:

Sec 401: A Member . . . shall prohibit all [his/her] staff . . . from having any official contact with that individual’s spouse if that spouse is a lobbyist . . .

So on the whole, this bill is a great first step forward, on account of the databases mandated to be created and the fact that the legislative language is absolutely perfect: “without a fee or other access charge, in a searchable, sortable, and downloadable manner, an electronic database.” It better not be the last step, though. There is much more to be done.

So let’s hope the House and Senate can get together on their respective ethics bills (S. 1 in the Senate) and get something enacted into law.

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