Senate shields tribes from new lobbying restrictions
The Senate overwhelmingly passed a broad ethics and lobbying reform package on Thursday, shielding tribes from negative provisions that could have weakened their presence in Washington.

In the wake of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, tribal leaders were worried that their right to participate in the political process could be restricted. But they were encouraged after Democrats last week defeated an attempt to impose limits on their campaign contributions.

Another promising step occurred during final consideration of the reform package yesterday. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) introduced an amendment to clarify that tribal lobbyists are treated in the same manner as state and local lobbyists.

The amendment, which was approved by unanimous consent, exempts former government officials and employees who go to work for tribes from a "cooling off" period that was extended from one year to two years. State and local lobbyists have already enjoyed the same exemption under existing law.

The proposal also ensures that former government officials and employees who represent tribes can continue to lobby the federal agencies where they used to work, as long as it's done pursuant to the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act.

The original version of the reform package was unclear on this matter until the Feinstein-Bennett was introduced. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee requested the new language, Feinstein said on the floor yesterday.

The move is somewhat of a step back from a proposal advanced by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the former chairman of the Indian committee. He wanted to subject nearly all former government officials and employees who work for tribes to a cooling-off period, citing potential conflicts of interest that have arisen due to the expansion of the $23 billion Indian gaming industry.

McCain's bill exempted work done in connection with self-determination agreements, much like the Senate's new reform package. But the Feinstein-Bennett amendment isn't as far-reaching as McCain's proposal, which had passed the Senate but failed to advance in the House.

After winning control of Congress in November, Democrats promised to change the way Washington works. The House, in one of its first actions, implemented internal rules to ban gifts, trips and meals from lobbyists and to require more disclosure on earmarks.

The Senate went further with S.1, which carries the weight of law. It passed by a 97-2 vote, with only Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, both Republicans, objecting.

LOBBYING PROVISIONS:
The Senate bill affects two parts of the US Code. First, it amends Section 207(j)(1) in Title 18, which imposes a cooling-off period on former government officials and employees who become lobbyists but exempts those who go to work for state and local governments. It adds the following to this section:
"The restrictions contained in this section shall not apply to acts done pursuant to section 104 of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act."

Second, the bill makes a slight change to Section 104(j) in Title 25, which exempts former government officials and employees who work for tribes from the cooling-off period. It changes the phrase:
"and former officers and employees of the United States employed by Indian tribes may act as agents or attorneys for"
to this one:
"or former officers and employees of the United States who are carrying out official duties as employees or as elected or appointed officials of an Indian tribe may communicate with and"
The entire section will then read as:
Anything in sections 205 and 207 of title 18 to the contrary notwithstanding, officers and employees of the United States assigned to an Indian tribe as authorized under section 3372 of title 5, or section 48 of this title or former officers and employees of the United States who are carrying out official duties as employees or as elected or appointed officials of an Indian tribe may communicate with and appear on behalf of such tribes in connection [with] any matter pending before any department, agency, court, or commission, including any matter in which the United States is a party or has a direct and substantial interest: Provided, That each such officer or employee or former officer or employee must advise in writing the head of the department, agency, court, or commission with which he is dealing or appearing on behalf of the tribe of any personal and substantial involvement he may have had as an officer or employee of the United States in connection with the matter involved.

Senate Reform Bill:
S.1 | Roll Call on Passage of S.1 | Roll Call on Tribal Political Donations Limit

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