Making Ethics Reforms Matter

Bill Scher

The first order of business in the House last week was to pass new House ethics rules, including new reporting requirements for congressional trips and earmarks.

But these new reporting requirements will only be good tools to shine a spotlight on corruption if we know how to use them well. So what are they? Here’s a few quick wonky details.

Regarding travel, when Members of Congress are about to take trips paid for by another party, they must get a certification from the sponsor that no lobbyist is involved. The Ethics Committee must review the certification and approve the trip in advance. Within 15 days after the trip, the certification and other materials related to the trip must be given to the Clerk, who then releases it to the public. (Exactly how the Clerk makes the materials available is not yet clear.)

Regarding earmarks, instead of special interest provisions being secretly slipped into bills, lists of projects in Members’ districts (and tax breaks tailor-made for 10 people or less) will be clearly placed in the Congressional Record. Congresspeople must disclose their own earmark requests.

Disclosure is great, if people are aware of what’s been disclosed. Otherwise, these reports collect dust and corrupt congresspeople continue to believe they can get away with anything.

How can we in the netroots best use these new rules to call attention to inappropriate junkets and special interest handouts? A dedicated blog? A regular ranking of the worst offenders?

What are your ideas? Share ’em in the comments.

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