[JURIST] President Bush Friday signed what he described as a "minimal" ethics reform bill [press release] designed to force lawmakers to disclose pet projects and divulge more details about campaign contributions. The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 [PDF text] was passed last month in the Senate after being approved in the House [JURIST reports] in late July. Hailed [press release] by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) as the "toughest lobbying and ethics reform in generations," it requires congressmen to flag their support of earmarks [JURIST report] – targeted spending programs – and disclose donations from lobbyists who "bundle" donations totaling over $15,000. The legislation also strips pensions from lawmakers found guilty of bribery or perjury.
In his signing remarks, Bush said the new law had consistency problems, could pose problems for presidential campaigns by incumbents, and did not go far enough on earmarks:
The legislation includes minimal improvements in the area of disclosure, both for lobbying and earmarks. But there is still more to be done — and I will work with the Congress to improve upon this legislation.
For example, the bill holds members of the Senate and Executive Branch employees to a much higher standard of conduct than members of the House. The specific bill language is confusing, and I believe these increased restrictions would have a negative impact on recruitment and retention of federal employees. I urge the Congress to make these standards more uniform and less confusing and to do so in a way that will not discourage public service.
In addition, this bill would have the effect of unreasonably burdening sitting President's and Vice President's reelection campaigns. I look forward to working with Congress to amend these provisions to provide a reasonable process for allocating the cost of Presidential and Vice Presidential campaign travel that is consistent with security needs.
I am pleased that the Congress has begun to make progress in bringing greater transparency to the earmarking process. However, this bill falls far short of the reform that American taxpayers deserve. I am concerned that there are potential loopholes in some of the earmark reforms included in this bill that would allow earmarks to escape sufficient scrutiny. This legislation also does not address other earmark reforms I have called on Congress to implement, such as ending the practice of putting earmarks in report language.
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