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Congressional lobby reform aims at disclosure

The US House clears a bill that lifts the curtain on contacts between lobbyists, lawmakers.

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In a bid to score a quick victory before the August recess, Democratic leaders in Congress are moving ahead on lobby and ethics reform legislation that they say will make sweeping changes in the way business is done in Washington.

At the heart of the measure are new reporting requirements for lobbyists' expenditures on Capitol Hill and protections against conflict of interest for members. The bill also would give the public more information than ever before about contacts between lobbyists and members of Congress, including the names of super-fundraisers whose "bundled" contributions to members' reelection campaigns vastly exceed the $2,300 limit on individual campaign donations.

On Tuesday, the House voted 411-to-8 to approve the bill with only 2 Republicans voting against the bill, despite criticism from GOP leaders. In the Senate, Democrats predict they, too, will have the votes to pass the measure because few lawmakers want to go home to explain a vote against a measure whose title is the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act.

Still, House Republican leaders called the bill a "hollow shell of reform" and complained that they had been blocked from any role in drafting final language, which was released Monday.

"The legislation is far from perfect, but the fact that they were able, finally, after all these efforts, to get it together to do this is highly significant," says Norman Ornstein, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington and a longtime critic of congressional ethics.

The House and Senate have each already voted some version of ethics and lobby reform. In the House, some reforms were adopted as rules, during the first 100 hours of the new Congress. But reformers say it's essential that the new standards be passed as law in both the chambers.

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