The Senate passed an election-year ethics package today shaped on the aftermath of the Abramoff scandal (see earlier post on Abramoff’s sentencing today). John Kerry and 7 other Senators voted against the measure, including Democrats Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Barack Obama of Illinois and Republicans Tom Coburn and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona.
Below is a statement from Senator John Kerry on the lobbying ethics legislation that passed the Senate today, 90-8, and his vote against the measure.
“No wonder people look at Washington and know it’s broken. Today the Senate failed to live up to its responsibility to keep faith with the American people and change the way business is done in Washington.
“It’s not enough to reform the earmarking process. It’s not enough to ban gifts and meals from lobbyists but exempt the organizations that employ them. It’s not enough to reign in pay-to-play schemes like the Republican K Street project. Changing a few of the rules does no good if there’s no enforcement. A major overhaul is still needed. The Senate left the fox to guard the chicken coop.
“We need an independent entity to ensure that no one changes the rules as they play the game—as the House tried to do just last year. The fact of the matter is that Congress has been unwilling or unable to punish its own for ethical violations. Just look at the latest cast of characters. There was no investigation into members of Congress’ dealings with Jack Abramoff, and Duke Cunningham was convicted without so much as a sanction from the House.
“A few weeks ago, former Representative “Duke” Cunningham received the longest prison sentence ever imposed on a former member of Congress, but he’ll still be getting a perk most Americans only dream of – $40,000 a year, courtesy of taxpayers. Most Americans don’t get a $40,000 a year pension, in fact most Americans are working harder for less and less. I don’t see why the American people should send Duke Cunningham his pension checks in jail.
“It’s a sorry statement about how broken Washington is that we could not take advantage of this unique and sad moment in history and enact serious lobbying reform. We owed it to the people who sent us to Washington to root out corruption, and the Senate turned its back on a golden opportunity today.”
John Kerry has authored two ethics reform measures in the Senate, one that would strip members of Congress who are convicted of certain crimes of their Congressional pensions and one to establish an independent Congressional Inspector General.
Banning Taxpayer-funded Pensions for Criminals
John Kerry’s Congressional Pension Accountability Act – or “The Duke Cunningham Act” – would deny taxpayer-funded pension benefits to Members of Congress who are convicted of crimes such as bribery, conspiracy, or other serious ethics offenses. Under current law, only a conviction for a crime against the United States, such as treason or espionage, causes U.S. Representatives and Senators to lose their Congressional pensions. Unless the law is changed, Cunningham will be allowed to receive his Congressional pension of approximately $40,000 per year.
Inspector General for Congress
John Kerry has introduced legislation to establish an independent Congressional Inspector General to investigate violations of the law and ethics rules by Members of Congress and Congressional staff. Kerry’s legislation creates an independent Congressional Inspector General, similar to those at federal agencies. The Inspector General would conduct investigations into ethics abuses and provide a public report to the Justice Department or ethics committees describing any credible evidence of improper conduct or illegal activities. Any person—including the public—would be able to request an investigation by providing a sworn statement made under penalty of perjury. The Inspector General would release an annual report of violations by Members of Congress and Congressional staff.