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Abramoff Scandal
On heels of Abramoff, McCain seeks lobbying reforms

Calling the Jack Abramoff scandal an "exploitation" of Native Americans, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) on Friday introduced legislation to reform lobbying practices in Washington, D.C.

McCain, the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said the investigation of Abramoff has turned up "unscrupulous" tactics of certain lobbyists. Members of Congress and their staff were plied with overseas trips, tickets to sports and entertainment events and campaign contributions, he said.

"The story is alarming in its depth and breadth of potential wrongdoing," McCain told his colleagues on the Senate floor. "It has spanned across the United States, sweeping up tribes throughout Indian Country."

In hopes of ending some of the practices, McCain said lobbyists need to disclose more information about their activities and in a quicker fashion. Members of Congress would have to report gifts above $20 and would have to pay the "fair market value" for travel on private planes and for tickets to sports and entertainment events.

And, for the first time, grassroots organizations would be required to disclose their financial interests. In the Abramoff scandal, several tribes donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to prominent Republican groups like Americans for Tax Reform but also to lesser known ones like the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy. Other groups appeared to be phony, the investigation showed.

McCain was joined by Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Connecticut), Sen Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wisconsin) as co-sponsors of the legislation. No other Republicans have signed onto the bill so far.

S.2128 includes a provision that McCain said will "ensure a level playing field" in Washington. It requires former government employees who represent tribes to wait one year before lobbying their colleagues.

The provision was included in S.1312, a bill McCain introduced back in June. The Senate passed the measure by unanimous consent on Friday afternoon, after the lobbying bill was introduced. It now awaits action in the House, where it was referred to the Resources Committee and the Judiciary Committee.

Normally, former government employees must submit to a one-year "cooling off" period when they leave office. But an exception was crafted in the 1980s to cover former Interior Department and Bureau of Indian Affairs employees who go to work for tribal governments.

The same exception applies to ex-employees who represent state and local governments. But McCain and others say the $19 billion tribal gaming industry has changed the tribal lobbying field in Washington.

The exception, however, will continue to apply to lobbyists or consultants who are employed by tribes pursuant to self-determination contracts or self-governance compacts.

McCain's bill also extends the cooling off period for members of Congress. They would have to wait two years, instead of just one year, to lobby their colleagues, a provision that would appear to apply to retired Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado), who retired a year ago.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee held five hearings over the last two years on the Abramoff scandal. The committee plans to release a report that will make recommendations on how to prevent tribes from being abused, McCain has said.

Statement on S.2128:
Sen. John McCain | Sen. Joe Lieberman | Sen. Dick Durbin

November 17, 2005, Hearing:
Video | Exhibits

November 2, 2005, Hearing:
Video | Exhibits | Witness List / Testimony

June 22, 2005, Hearing:
Video | Exhibits 1 | Exhibits 2 | Witness List / Testimony

November 17, 2004 Hearing:
Video | Exhibits | Witness List / Testimony

September 29, 2004 Hearing:
Video | Exhibits | Witness List / Testimony