Pathetic, phony reform

The Republican-run House voted to clean up its ethics scandal by _ heaping more paperwork on lobbyists and crimping the Democrats’ campaign cash.

Registered lobbyists will now be required to file quarterly reports on their activities, and the reports will be subject to random scrutiny by House auditors. And the bill caps donations to political groups known as 527s, which heavily favored Democrats in the last election cycle.

How this would have prevented Jack Abramoff’s lobbying excesses, or Rep. Tom DeLay’s formers aides from selling access, or Rep. Duke Cunningham from accepting bribes is not at all clear.

A popular perk, privately funded travel for lawmakers, remains, although it must be cleared with the House ethics committee until June 15 when the committee is to come up with permanent rules on travel. Lobbyists are barred from flying on the same corporate jet as a lawmaker, although presumably other company officials will be aboard.

The bill requires ethics training for congressional staff while the members, from whom staffers take their cues, are not required but only encouraged to take the training.

One positive step requires all earmarks _ lawmakers’ individual pork projects _ to be identified along with the sponsor’s name on all spending bills. The measure would be stronger if it applied to earmarks in all legislation, and if members could do more than just raise a point of order against nameless earmarks emerging from a House-Senate conference, the source of so much legislative mischief.

The Senate also has an ethics bill, but with some differences from the House version. It bans all gifts and meals from lobbyists; the House imposes a $50 limit. A House-Senate conference will iron out the differences between the two, giving the lawmakers another chance to distance themselves from the bold promises of reform they made in January.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)