In 2007, Congress was still reeling from the Jack Abramoff scandal. Representatives were being investigated, indicted, and thrown into federal prison; it was time to reform Congressional ethics guidelines. The result was the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, a landmark reform that passed with broad bipartisan support.
The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act was meant to limit the influence that lobbyists can have over our political process; it increased the "cooling off" period before former members of Congress and their staffs can lobby; reformed gift and travel disclosure; enhanced lobbyist disclosure; and more. Unfortunately, this hasn't been enough. It's time for Congress to do more.
Presently, only lobbyists for foreign entities have to disclose the contact they have with our lawmakers. It's time for every Washington lobbyist to disclose not just every time they speak with a member of Congress or a staffer, but for which client they were lobbying, and on what issue.
In 2007, the House also changed its rules governing earmarks, for the first time requiring lawmakers to disclose their earmark requests. Unfortunately, that information is buried in committee reports and on Congressional websites; it's time to mandate a single, searchable official earmark database. We must also permanently ban earmarked money for campaign contributors and the for-profit companies of which they are members of the board of directors. Washington's culture of quid pro quo must be ended; the only way to break the cycle is to force transparency on our lawmakers.
In July, I called for these reforms, as well as a sweeping reform of congressional per diem pay. In the past month, we have watched my opponent, Joe Wilson, come under investigation and highlight the desperate need for reform. Joe first claimed that he had come under fire over $12 in goblets; then the story broke that he was under investigation for 30 trips that accounted for more than $38,000 in per diem expenses.
Three years ago, the most sweeping congressional ethics reform in history was signed into law. Now it's time to prove that we can do better.