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TIMELY ETHICS BILL PASSES HOUSE, HEADS TO SENATE

The House gave final and overwhelming approval Tuesday to a landmark bill that would tighten ethics and lobbying rules for Congress, passing it on to a Senate that is under a new ethics cloud after this week's FBI raid on Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' house. Some members, including Democrats, privately complained that it would hinder their fundraising, but they dared not vote against it. Others, especially Republicans, said the measure didn't go far enough. The most sweeping overhaul of congressional ethics rules since the Watergate era passed 411-8. "What we did today was momentous," declared House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Good-government advocates agreed.

Key provisions

- Lawmakers must disclose those lobbyists who raise $15,000 or more for them within six months by "bundling" campaign donations from numerous givers.

- Senators seeking a special spending project or "earmark" must disclose it two days before a vote, and certify that they and their immediate relatives have no direct financial interest in it. (The House adopted similar rules in January.)

- Leaders of the majority party, not the Senate parliamentarian, would rule on whether the earmark disclosure requirements have been met.

- Senators and candidates for the Senate and White House must pay full charter fare when traveling on private planes. House members and candidates may not accept trips on private planes.

- Senators and their staffs may not accept gifts from lobbyists and their clients. (The House adopted a gift ban in January).

- Former senators must wait two years before lobbying Congress in person. Ex-House members and top congressional aides must wait one year.

- Lawmakers convicted of bribery, perjury or similar crimes would lose their congressional retirement benefits.

- Lobbyists must disclose payments made to presidential libraries, inaugural committees or organizations controlled by, or named for, members of Congress.

- Lawmakers and their aides may not try to influence hiring decisions by lobbying firms and others in exchange for political access.

- Lawmakers may not attend large parties given in their honor by lobbyists at national political conventions.

What's next

The bill faces hurdles in the Senate, though leaders of both parties predict it will pass.

Reaction

"These are big-time fundamental reforms that will end the secrecy surrounding the multiple ways in which Washington lobbyists use money to curry favor and gain access and influence with members of Congress." - Fred Wertheimer, president of the nonprofit group Democracy21

"It was kind of a surprise to us that it passed as overwhelmingly as it did as quickly as it did."

- Bob Edgar, a former Democratic congressman who heads the government watchdog group Common Cause

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