World and Nation

Senate Approves New Lobbying Constraints, Bans Private Gifts

The Senate gave final approval Thursday to a far-reaching package of new ethics and lobbying rules, with an overwhelming majority of Republicans and Democrats agreeing to better police the relationship between lawmakers and lobbyists.

If President Bush signs the bill into law, members of Congress would face a battery of new restrictions. The legislation, approved by the Senate on a vote of 83-14, calls for bans on gifts, meals and travel paid for by lobbyists, and makes it more difficult for lawmakers to quickly capitalize on their connections when joining the private sector.

The measure, which grew out of scandals that have tarnished the image of Congress, represents a cultural shift in the traditions of Capitol Hill. While proponents hailed the measure as the most significant reform since Watergate, questions remained on how some provisions would be enforced and whether the measure would change lawmakers’ ability to secure pet projects known as earmarks.

Still, the legislation does require greater disclosure about how the projects are chosen, with an effort to shed light on backroom dealing at the root of scandals that landed four lawmakers in jail and contributed to Republicans losing control of Congress last year. The bill also requires lawmakers to disclose the names of lobbyists who raise $15,000 in contributions in a six-month period through the bundling of donations.

The measure also abolishes the practice of discounted rides on private planes, requiring senators as well as candidates for the Senate or the White House to pay full charter rates for trips. House members would be barred from accepting free trips on private planes.

“Regardless of how reforms might impact us, our priority must be to convince our constituents that we are here to advocate their best interests, not those of well-connected lobbyists,” said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis. “Ethical conduct in government should be more than an aspiration. It should be a requirement.”

The legislation brings a close — for the moment, anyway — to quarreling among Democrats and Republicans over charges of corruption. The debate came amid a widening corruption investigation involving Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, the longest-serving Republican, and only weeks after Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, was linked to a prostitution scandal. Both senators voted for the bill.