House passes ethics reform

The US Senate on Thursday passed what its Democratic leaders proclaimed as the most sweeping law regulating lobbying and lawmakers’ conduct in history, following a string of political scandals.

But Republicans, who lost control of Congress last year partly due to a clutch of ethics questions, complained the bill, which has already passed by the House of Representatives, did not go far enough.

“In sending the most sweeping ethics and lobbying reform in history to the President, we are giving the American people a government as good and honest as the people it represents,” said Senate Majority leader Harry Reid.

Democrats, in a nod to the voters who installed them in power after congressional elections last year, saw ethics reform as one of their top priorities.

The bill prohibits lawmakers from accepting gifts and free travel from lobbyists. It also slows what is known as the “revolving door” which often sees former lawmakers quickly reappear in a new life as lobbyists.

“The American people are sick and tired of the corruption that has plagued this city for the last six years,” Reid said.

The White House however complained that the bill did not do enough to cut down on lawmakers adding special projects for their districts to spending bills — a process known as “earmarking.”

“The language has been considerably weakened, and furthermore, the reporting requirements have been reduced basically to no requirements at all,” said White House spokesman Tony Snow.

A string of ethics scandals in recent years rattled the former Republican majority in Congress.

The most notorious involved the “superlobbyist” Jack Abramoff who built an empire during the Republican rise to power in Congress in the 1990s, and expanded his influence with Bush’s capture of the White House in December 2000.

But after falling from grace, Abramoff, 47, pleaded guilty last year to defrauding lenders in a Florida gambling boat deal and jailed for nearly six years for wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud.

Just last week, the FBI raided the home of Alaska Republican Senator Ted Stevens, as part of a probe into alleged corruption.

Democrats have also had their ethics problems.

In June, Louisiana lawmaker William Jefferson, who allegedly stashed 90,000 dollars in his freezer, was indicted on 16 counts of bribery and corruption and accused of a string of frauds in Africa.