Video: Congressional ethics reform

NBC News Investigative Unit
updated 1/5/2007 7:30:03 PM ET 2007-01-06T00:30:03

WASHINGTON — Democrats say they were returned to power in part because of corruption and ethical lapses of the Republican Congress. They promised to clean up the swamp and crack down on lobbyists.

But hours after changing House rules to reduce favors from lobbyists, it was back to business as usual in Washington.

Democrats threw a $1,000-a-person fundraising concert in Washington Thursday night, with Hollywood celebrities, big donors and those lobbyists writing checks to re-elect Democrats. 

“Tonight we are having a celebration!” said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "Democrats are back!”

Congressional Republicans also had a pricey fundraiser with lobbyists after they assumed power 12 years ago.

But Democrats promised to be different.

“It sends a very mixed message to be on one hand saying that they're clamping down on lobbyists, but then raising money from those very same lobbyists that they say are part of the problem,” says David Donnelly, an ethics reform advocate with Public Action Campaign Fund.

Democrats did get the new House to ban members from taking any gifts, meals or trips from lobbyists — which reform groups call an important first step.

But most reformers say those are not the most important tools lobbyist use to influence Congress.  

“Lobbyists are most valuable to Congress by raising significant amounts of money for their re-election campaign,” says Donnelly.

And neither party is doing anything to crack down on campaign money lobbyists give and raise. In fact, under the new rules, lobbyists can still wine and dine members of Congress as long as it's a campaign fundraiser. 

Some lobbyists say that politicians who trash lobbyists are hypocritical.

“If you want to bash me in the press, bash me in the press, but don't call me the next day and ask for money,” says Paul Miller, president of the American League of Lobbyists.

Speaker Pelosi's spokesperson says there were only about 200 lobbyists at Thursday night's fundraising concert, and that this still will be the most open, honest Congress ever.

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