Bush signs lobbying, ethics reform package

Measure bans gifts to members of Congress and most travel paid for by lobbyists.

President Bush signed a comprehensive lobbying and ethics bill Friday. The measure bans gifts to members of Congress and most travel paid for by lobbyists, and it might reduce the practice of earmarking federal money for lawmakers' pet projects.

The legislation, S. 1, aims to shed light on some practices by requiring online disclosure. Lobbyists who bundle campaign contributions for candidates and senators who request earmarks would be disclosed in an online database.

It was the first measure the Democrats debated when they took congressional power in January, and the Senate passed the final legislation 83-14 just before leaving town in August.

"A great day it is indeed," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. "Democrats in Washington are draining the swamp to make this the most honest Congress in history."

There was some concern that Bush might "pocket veto" the measure by simply not signing it during the August break because he wants stronger earmark reforms, so Congress delayed sending the bill to Bush. Congress passed the measure by wide margins and could have overridden a traditional veto. They sent the measure to the president Sept. 4.

Some observers, including Citizens Against Government Waste, complained that the bill was softened over the summer. The original Senate-passed version would have prevented the House and Senate from going to conference on bills without advance disclosure of all earmarks.

CAGW said the final version would require a searchable database of earmarks only "if practicable," and the Senate majority leader and certain committee chairmen would decide if the requirement has been met. The group further said lawmakers could benefit financially themselves from earmarks -- as long as they can show others in their districts would benefit, too.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., defended the bill, telling critics that the changes really would make it "landmark legislation."

"This is a very strong and very comprehensive bill," Feingold said. "It makes significant changes and will make a big difference."

Feingold and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., co-sponsored legislation to require disclosure by bundlers who raise more than $10,000 for candidates. The bill Bush signed requires the online disclosure of bundlers raising more than $15,000.

Obama called it the "most sweeping reform since Watergate."

Fred Wertheimer, the president of Democracy 21, which calls attention to the role of money in politics, called the earmark disclosures an improvement and joined Democrats at a news conference Friday to celebrate the signing of the legislation.