The U.S. Senate defeated today, by a vote of 67-30, an amendment by Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) to create an independent Office of Public Integrity to oversee lobbying disclosure.
Leading the opposition were Senators George Voinovich (R-Ohio), chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee.
“Overall the Senate [Ethics] Committee has been doing what they were supposed to do,” said Voinovich from the floor of the Senate.
“The truth is, the Senate Ethics Committee operates effectively and in a bipartisan fashion,” Johnson added.
Unfortunately, such statements are not rooted in either facts or reality. According to Center for Public Integrity research, while under the oversight of the Senate Ethics Committee, lobbying disclosure has been glaringly un-enforced.
- Nearly 14,000 lobbying documents that should have been filed periodically with the Senate Office of Public Records are missing;
- Nearly 300 individuals and entities lobbied without registering;
- 49 of the top 50 lobbying firms failed to file required forms;
- Almost one in five companies have missing lobbying forms; and,
- Almost 20 percent of all forms are filed late.
In addition, a forthcoming study of congressional travel by the Center has found that:
- Rules prohibiting lobbying firms to pay for travel are often ignored or waived;
- Forms are commonly filed late, are incomplete, and often amended after media scrutiny; and,
- Members of Congress frequently ignore or have gotten the ethics committee to waive rules restricting the number and relationships of companions they take on privately financed trips.#
As the numbers and recent lobbying-related scandals show, the Senate Ethics Committee has had difficulties regulating the lobbying industry.
Critics of the current system have argued that more money and staffers should be devoted towards regulation. Documents show that in 1993, former FEC Chairman Scott Thomas asked Congress “to consider placing the responsibility of administering the [Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1993] with the Federal Election Commission.”
The Federal Election Commission utilizes 391 employees and a $54 million budget to monitor campaign contributions. The Senate Office of Public Records, in contrast, employs fewer than a dozen people to monitor lobbying. Yet, Center research shows, since 1998 almost twice as much money has been spent in lobbying as in campaign contributions.
See related Public Integrity material on lobbying:
Abramoff Plea Marks Turning Point on K Street
#Clarification: The original story referred to “Senators” within this sentence, but the study deals with all of Congress.