Op-Eds

A First Step

By Congressman Henry Cuellar

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Washington, May 18, 2006 | comments

As Americans, we all have the right to express our views freely, but we also have the right to fair and accountable government. I believe HR 4975, the Lobbying Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, effectively balances those concerns, and at the same time provides a stable foundation for continued reform.

After meeting with many of my constituents in the 28th District of Texas who voiced desire for reform of the lobbying practices in Washington, DC, I voted on their behalf to support the measure, which is a good step in the right direction to increasing transparency and accountability in Congress.

My vote in favor of HR 4975 is a vote for the beginnings of reform. I supported, and voted for, a strong Democratic alternative. When this alternative was defeated in a party line vote, I choose to vote for the most viable alternative available. 

HR 4975 aims to restore the American public’s faith in their elected representation including several necessary and key reforms. These are provisions which many constituents indicated they wanted to see implemented.

First among these is the requirement that lobbyists file their disclosures every quarter versus the semiannual disclosures that are now required. These disclosures will also be far more precise, HR 4975 requires that lobbyists must estimate expenses to the nearest $1,000 rather than current $20,000.

Secondly, it forces lobbyists to disclose all contributions to Federal candidates, leadership PACs, other PACs, and all party committees.

Thirdly, all of these reports will now be filed electronically and be made available on online.  The electronic filing requirement will be coupled with random audits of lobbying reports by the House Inspector General, who can forward violations to the Justice Department of prosecution.

Finally, HR 4975 also increases the penalties, both civil and criminal, for non-compliance.  Civil fines for failure to report would be increased from $50,000 to $100,000, while a criminal penalty of up to 3 years would be created for those “willingly” and “knowingly” failing to comply with the new law.

By increasing the frequency of disclosures and the amount of information made public, HR 4975 helps fulfill the public’s right to know who is influencing their members of Congress. More remains to be done, but HR 4975 is progressive in shining the light of public disclosure on the lobbying industry.

The constituents of the 28th Congressional District of Texas played a key role in my decision to vote for this bill, and I intend to continue to support measures that benefit the people I work for. Constituents, not lobbyists should always be the most powerful voice influencing their elected officials.

 

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