What: All Issues : Making Government Work for Everyone, Not Just the Rich or Powerful : Lobbying Reform & Government Transparency : S. 1. (Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007), Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) amendment to permit "grassroots" lobbying organizations to pay for lawmakers' travel expenses/On approval of the amendment (2007 senate Roll Call 14)
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S. 1. (Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007), Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) amendment to permit "grassroots" lobbying organizations to pay for lawmakers' travel expenses/On approval of the amendment
senate Roll Call 14     Jan 17, 2007
Progressive Position:
Nay
Progressive Result:
Loss
Qualifies as polarizing?
Yes
Is this vote crucial?
Yes

This vote was on an amendment proposed by Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) that would allow "grassroots" and educational organizations to pay for fact-finding trips for lawmakers.

The bill to which Bennett was attempting to amend would overhaul Congressional lobbying and ethics rules for Senators and their staffs. The legislation would prohibit the acceptance of gifts and free meals, extend the time period before former Senators can become lobbyists and outlaw lobbyist-funded travel.

Bennett said the way the legislation was worded would prevent nonprofit organizations from funding purely educational trips for Members of Congress. Bennett said there are "a number" of such programs that are affiliated with lobbyists, which may disqualify them from funding educational travel.

"They do not take lobbyists on the trip. The lobbyists do not use the trip in any way," Bennett said. "But because the organization has some connection to a lobbyist -- may have employed a lobbyist for some issue unrelated to the trip or may, as in the case of the Aspen Institute, have lobbyists on its board -- I am told that someone who wanted to disrupt those programs could challenge them."

Bennett continued that he thought he had a deal with an unnamed Senator on the other side of the aisle to revise the language to everyone's liking, but it fell through, necessitating this vote.

Bennett was adamant in his insistence that the language would not create any kind of a loophole. "The Ethics Committee will be involved to review all of these programs in advance, to make sure they are, in fact, educational programs. Lobbyists will not be allowed to travel or be present at any of the meetings," Bennett added.

But such assurances were not enough for Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who said the amendment would allow an exemption to the "bright line" drawn by the underlying legislation that was specifically designed to prevent special interests from funding luxurious trips for lawmakers. Feingold said if nonprofits refrained from lobbying, they could fund all the Congressional travel they wanted.

"The result will go a long way toward deciding whether the gift rule changes before us meet the high standards for reform set by the American people in the most recent elections in November," Feingold said of maintaining the strictness of the original language.

In the end, Bennett was able to find a narrow majority to support his amendment, and the Senate passed it 51-46. Six Democrats joined 45 Republicans in supporting it. Thus, legislation to tighten the lobbying and ethics rules went forward with a provision that allows nonprofits to fund trips deemed educational by the Ethics Committee.

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