WASHINGTON, DC - House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) spoke on the House Floor today in support of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
"Mr. Speaker, I intend to support this important bill before us - the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act - which addresses the relationship between Members of Congress and those who seek to influence legislation. I urge my colleagues: support this legislation, as well.
"This bill, like the one we just considered, is not perfect. Few bills are. However, these measures call for greater transparency, and provide specific guidance to Members and lobbyists on the propriety of certain actions.
"Without question, the recent scandals involving former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the guilty pleas of former Representatives Randy "Duke" Cunningham and Bob Ney have raised serious questions in the public's mind about the integrity of our process and the Members who serve here.
"The legislation introduced by Chairman Conyers is an important step in addressing such concerns, and thereby will help ensure public confidence in our legislative process and this institution.
"Among other things, this legislation will -
- Outlaw the so-called "K Street Project," in which Members influenced employment decisions of private entities for partisan gain. In fact, violators of this provision will be fined or imprisoned for up to 15 years.
- This legislation expands and strengthens lobbying disclosure requirements, mandating quarterly disclosure of lobbying reports and increasing penalties for violation of the Lobbying Disclosure Act.
- This legislation requires Members to disclose job negotiations for post-Congressional employment.
- And, this legislation retains the one-year ban on lobbying imposed on Members and senior staff, but requires Members and such staff to recuse themselves from working on legislation in which a prospective employer has a vested interest.
"This bill alone cannot guarantee honest, ethical conduct - any more than a law against burglary will deter a determined burglar.
"However, when coupled with the most sweeping ethics changes since Watergate - which the Democratic Majority enacted on the very first day of this new 110th Congress - the legislation will help reassure the public that we appreciate the legitimate concerns raised by the Abramoff case and others, and are committed to taking action to address them.
"I understand that some believe that this bill and the one we just considered do not go far enough. I know that some sincerely believe that our current system - in which lobbyists or any other American may legally contribute to a political campaign - is inevitably "questionable," if not "unethical" or "corrupt."
"Let me say without equivocation: I strongly disagree with this view.
"The implication of this position is not only inaccurate, but also an unwarranted smear on the integrity of the vast majority of Members on both sides of the aisle who diligently abide by ethical rules and our campaign finance laws, and who otherwise conduct themselves with the highest integrity.
"Do not misunderstand me: our system can, should and must be continually improved to ensure public confidence in the integrity of our legislative process.
"However, as long as there is private financing of political campaigns - and as long as men and women exercise their right to petition their government - the relationship between private giving and public action will be a recurring issue that requires close examination and periodic reform.
"That is precisely what this bill before us today represents - periodic, important reform that ensures greater transparency and specifically addresses some of the most egregious recent transgressions.
"Finally, as important as this legislation and the ethics changes made in January are, they alone will not ensure the integrity of our process and this institution.
"Rather, the Members of this House will ensure the integrity of this House when we conduct ourselves openly and honestly, and hold accountable those who fail to abide by the rules and the highest ethical standards.
"Thus, we have an obligation to ensure that the Ethics Committee does the job that it was constituted to perform. The implementation of rules - while critical - must be followed by effective, real enforcement.
"I urge my colleagues: vote for this legislation and let us provide greater transparency of our legislative process and ensure public confidence in this institution, in which we are so proud to serve."