Senate votes in new ethics rules

By wire services
Published March 30, 2006

The Senate, prodded by influence-peddling scandals that have given Congress a black eye, voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to deny senators gifts and meals from lobbyists and to tighten lobbyist reporting requirements.

In a 90-8 vote, senators also restricted, but didn't eliminate, their ability to insert special-interest provisions, or "earmarks," that find their way into spending bills.

Florida Sens. Mel Martinez, a Republican, and Bill Nelson, a Democrat, both voted for the bill.

Sponsors of the legislation praised it for making the Senate more transparent and less susceptible to backroom deals and high-priced wining and dining.

But it has no enforcement mechanism, and its limits on special-interest "earmarks" have a loophole that would exclude millions in targeted spending from its restrictions. The House has yet to act.

The vote came just hours after a U.S. district judge in Miami sentenced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff to nearly six years in prison for his role in the fraudulent purchase of a fleet of casino cruise ships.

Abramoff's influence-peddling helped spawn the Senate action.

Republicans and Democrats alike defended the bill against critics who said it didn't go far enough.

The bill is a "measured response to this scandal," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., "ensuring that special interests cannot operate under a cloak of darkness."

Information from the Associated Press, Knight Ridder news service and the Chicago Tribune was used in this report.