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Thursday, March 3, 1994 Gary Ruskin (202) 296-2787

Nader Urges Ban Corporate Gifts to Members of Congress

Ralph Nader urged members of Congress to "break their addiction to corporate-provided Epicurean meals and lavish vacations" by banning all gifts to members of Congress.

Current gift rules allow members of Congress to accept gifts of up to a $250 aggregate limit from one source, but gifts of less than $100 are not counted against this limit. A loophole in the $250 aggregate gift limit allows Members of Congress to accept unlimited amounts in vacations, travel, and meals in Washington from lobbyists and special interests.

"Speaker Foley promised a 'month of reform' in October and then a 'week of reform' at the end of October. The Senate passed a resolution last year promising gift reform by year's end. But nothing happened. The American public is tired of this trail of deceit and broken promises. They want a ban on all corporate-sponsored meals, vacations, junkets, and other perks." Nader said.

The House Judiciary Committee is currently considering a lobbyist disclosure bill (H.R. 823) which would ostensibly ban all lobbyists and their clients from giving gifts to members of Congress or their staffs. However, the bill is fraught with large loopholes, including: allowing gifts motivated by "personal friendship," permitting meals and entertainment paid for by a lobbyist's client, and allowing lobbyist-sponsored vacations, subject to more detailed disclosure requirements.

On May 6, 1993 the Senate passed the Lobbying Disclosure Act (S. 349) which required disclosure of a great variety of gifts valued at more than $20, and committed the Senate to tightening congressional gift rules. But Senator Frank Lautenberg's Congressional Ethics Reform Act (S. 885) -- has been stalled in the Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management. Lautenberg's bill would forbid Members of Congress from accepting gifts valued at more than $20 per gift, with a $50 aggregate annual limit, with the exception of travel, which would be subjected to additional disclosure.

"Citizens will not let the so-called congressional 'Golf and Tennis Caucus' defeat real congressional gift reform," Nader said. Nader urged citizens to call their representatives and senators to support a ban on gifts to members of Congress. The Congressional switchboard phone number is (202) 224-3121.

"Though most members of Congress have adopted the patois of congressional reform, they have failed miserably in adopting reform itself. To date, the 103rd Congress has not enacted any of these reforms: cutting congressional pay, tightening scandalous congressional gift rules, changing the way congressional campaigns are financed, reducing over-generous congressional perks, eliminating the personal use of campaign funds, and passing term limits," Nader said.

"Many members of Congress avail themselves of a swank and luxurious lifestyle filled with Epicurean meals and posh vacations paid for by special interest lobbyists. This is how lobbyists facilitate their influence on votes, and how the hidden income of members of Congress swells to a capacity limited only by greed and the size of the human stomach," Nader said.

Private interests frequently give gifts to Members of Congress. Examples include:

* A recent study by Public Citizen showed that U.S. Senators took 680 privately-funded trips during the 102nd Congress (1991-92), many paid for by business and other groups lobbying Congress.

* A 1991 study by Public Citizen showed that Members of the House of Representatives went on nearly 4,000 privately funded trips during the 101st Congress (1989-90).

* "Inside Edition" in February documented the "Senators Ski Cup" -- an all-expenses-paid vacation provided to senators, and paid for by 34 corporations, many of which have legislation pending before the Senate.

* ABC's "Prime Time Live" recently documented an all-expenses-paid trip by six members of Congress to a resort in Florida sponsored by U.S. Tobacco and other corporations.

Current Congressional rules allow Members of the House of Representatives to accept up to four days worth of "expenses" (seven days for foreign travel) for so-called "fact-finding" trips or to gatherings in which they "substantially participate." Senators may accept up to three days for domestic travel and seven days for foreign trips. No limits are placed on the value of travel expenses accepted by a Member, or the number of trips they may accept from any single source.

S. 349 included a "Sense of the Senate" resolution that "as soon as possible during this year's session, the Senate should limit the acceptance of gifts, meals and travel by Members and staff in a manner substantially similar to the restrictions applicable to executive branch officials."