Hefley's ethics plan snubbed 

In era of scandal, House opts for relatively toothless alternative

With the Jack Abramoff scandal still festering in Washington, D.C., Rep. Joel Hefley probably should have had an easier time proposing ethics reform.

But last week, his appeal for forceful new ethics rules fell on deaf ears, while an alternate proposal that a watchdog group brusquely labeled "pathetic" advanced.

"We had a serious opportunity to implement comprehensive ethics reform in the House, but we didn't take advantage of it," the Colorado Springs Republican said in a statement issued after House Resolution 4975 passed in a 217-213 vote.

Hefley had tried to insert stronger provisions into the "Lobbying, Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006," but failed to capture his colleagues' attention, according to his office. The provisions originally appeared in a bill he and Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo, had proposed.

Their bill sought to strengthen the investigative subpoena powers of the House Ethics Committee and would have required lawmakers to obtain House panel approval before taking privately funded trips. The bill also would have required lawmakers to report for publication on the Internet any gifts from lobbyists worth more than $20.

Democrats also vainly fought for stricter rules, including a ban on gifts and travel from lobbyists such as Abramoff, who in January pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion.

HR 4975, as passed, requires lobbyists to officially report their activities four times a year, instead of twice. Among other provisions is one suspending privately funded travel until after the November election.

HR 4975 now goes to committee, where representatives will resolve differences between it and a Senate bill that seeks a ban on gifts from lobbyists, among other provisions.

According to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit watchdog group, Congress failed to come up with bills that guarantee tough ethics oversight and mechanisms to punish lawmakers who flout the rules.

CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan praises Hefley, but adds that "even Hefley's bill wouldn't have made the Ethics Committee any more likely to act on allegations of wrongdoing."

CREW and others have called for an "Office of Public Integrity," to be staffed with nonpartisan prosecutors that would independently investigate allegations of abuse.

"The problem right now is that the process is viewed as partisan," Sloan says. "We need to take the politics out of it."

Last year, Hefley was removed from his position as chairman of the Ethics Committee by House Speaker Dennis Hastert after the committee admonished then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay for misconduct.


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