Washington, DC – A large and ideologically diverse coalition of civic organizations called upon (PDF) Congress today to approve the “Strengthen House Floor Integrity Resolution,” sponsored by US Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.), that would end a special privilege enjoyed by former lawmakers who are now registered lobbyists: access to the US House floor during ceremonial events.
The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, approved by Congress in the wake of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, applied a ban on access to the House floor for lobbyists to members-turned-lobbyists as well. However, an exemption in both House and Senate rules allows members-turned-lobbyists to access the floor during “ceremonial” events, such as the State of the Union address. At this year’s State of the Union address, at least one former member-turned-lobbyist was prominently featured on national television visiting with colleagues and networking throughout the floor of the House.
As a letter to Congress from the coalition notes: “It is not known whether the lobbyist discussed business with his colleagues on the floor. But the sheer access to lawmakers, and being seen by millions of people (including current clients and potential clients) on the floor with Congress and the President, is a privilege not available to other lobbyists. The proposed Resolution would eliminate this exception.”
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This special access to the floor during ceremonial events allows former members of Congress who are registered lobbyists to network with colleagues, perhaps discuss business and be shown as a powerful “insider” to potential clients. All other lobbyists are denied this special access.
The coalition letter concludes: “The floor of Congress is a sacrosanct institution of the ‘People’s House,’ where lobbyists should not be permitted to conduct business or promote the firm’s business brand on national television. We strongly encourage Congress to close the current loophole in the ethics rules and adopt the ‘Strengthen House Floor Integrity Resolution.’ ”
The coalition consists of Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America, Democracy 21, Every Voice, James A. Thurber, Judicial Watch, National Legal and Policy Center, Norman Ornstein, Project on Government Oversight, Public Campaign, Public Citizen and US PIRG.