Who says lobbyists and government watchdog groups can’t work together? In a conference call this morning, a group of lobbyists and the leaders of several good government groups announced a set of earmark reform principles designed to reduce the influence of special interests and save taxpayers’ money.
After months of meetings, some of which were described as “heated” and “intense,” the coalition came up with five principles that both houses should take into account when coming up with a rules package when the new Congress convenes in January 2011.
Those principles are:
• In order to cut the cord between earmarks and campaign contributions, Congress should limit earmarks directed to campaign contributors.
• To eliminate any connection between legislation and campaign contributions, legislative staff should be barred from participating in fundraising activities.
• To increase transparency, Congress should create a new database of all congressional earmarks.
• To ensure taxpayer money has been spent appropriately, the Government Accountability Office should randomly audit earmarks.
• To promote congressional responsibility without stifling innovation, members of Congress should certify that earmark recipients are qualified to handle the project.
The discussion of how to come up with principles for earmark reform that could be embraced by Republicans, Democrats, lobbyists and government watchdog groups grew out of conversations between Holland & Knight lobbyist Rich Gold and Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Gold said that he and Sloan began discussing the issue almost a year ago after sitting together on panels discussing earmark reform. From there, they reached out to other lobbyists and groups such as Citizens Against Government Waste, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and Public Citizen.
Gold said he was impressed at how the groups were willing to work together, given that Citizens Against Government Waste and Taxpayers for Common Sense are against earmarks in any form
“There was no reason why this whole thing couldn’t have fallen apart. But everyone came from the common ground that something needed to be done on earmark reform,” Gold said.
Leslie Paige, media director for Citizens Against Government Waste, said that while her organization would ultimately like to see a complete moratorium on earmarks, it will settle on increased transparency and accountability in the meantime. “We’re all just very, very frustrated with the slow and incremental reform we have seen on this issue. Something needs to be done,” Paige said.
James Walsh, a former Republican congressman from New York who now lobbies at K&L Gates, said it was “remarkable” to see such a diverse group of people come together on the issue of earmark reform. Walsh has been briefing House and Senate leaders from both parties on the coalition’s principles during the past several weeks. He said there has been “a lot of interest from everyone we have spoken with.”
The other drafters of the earmark principles are Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste; Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense; Craig Holman, legislative representative at Public Citizen; Manny Rouvelas, a partner at K&L Gates; and Dave Wenhold, a name partner at Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies.