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Democrats hail 'sweeping' lobby reforms

Story Highlights

• Democrats say they've made good on 2006 pledge to clean up lobbying
• Bill bars spouses from lobbying; increases civil and criminal penalties
• Solicitors of multiple contributors to one candidate must disclose sources
• Lawmakers must disclose negotiations with possible future employers
From Deirdre Walsh
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House passed restrictions Thursday that limit how lobbyists can raise money for members and bar spouses from lobbying lawmakers, in what Democrats called the most sweeping reforms in decades.

Democrats campaigned on reforming lobbying rules when they ran for office in 2006 after influence-peddling scandals rocked the Republican-led Congress.

"We said that we would provide open government and honest leadership," said Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland before the legislation passed by wide margins. "This is part and parcel of redeeming that promise to the American people." (Watch why some Democrats say the reforms aren't tough enough and some say they're too harsh Video)

One of the two measures that passed would require lobbyists who solicit campaign contributions from multiple donors for one candidate -- a practice called "bundling" -- to disclose the source and amounts of those contributions. That bill sailed through 382-37.

The second creates a new electronic database for lobbyists and requires them to file quarterly reports about contacts with lawmakers. It also bars spouses from lobbying, and increases civil and criminal penalties for those violating ethics rules. That bill passed 396-22.

The legislation stems from a widespread influence-peddling scandal that involved former high-powered congressional lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The Abramoff bribery probe led to the conviction of former Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to conspiracy and making false statements and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

Abramoff is currently serving a 70-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to conspiracy and fraud charges. (Read the latest on the Abramoff probe, including possible ties to the White House)

After taking the reins of Congress in January, Democrats pushed new legislation through the House banning gifts and travel paid for by lobbyists. The restrictions also required members to disclose when they insert spending "earmarks" into bills. The Senate passed similar lobbying legislation in January, which will have to be reconciled with the House bill.

The reforms come after critics have accused majority Democrats of backing off campaign promises to strengthen ethics rules. New limits on ex-lawmakers and senior congressional aides are less stringent than earlier proposals.

An earlier proposal would have doubled the amount of time ex-lawmakers and senior staff would need to wait before they can lobby Congress, extending the term from one year to two.

The bill that passed Thursday keeps the current one-year limit, but requires lawmakers to disclose any negotiations with possible employers and refrain from voting on any related legislation.

Senior Democrat Murtha apologizes

In another ethics-related House matter, top Democrat Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania apologized after allegations that he threatened to block any future earmarks by Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan. (Read about how the GOP failed to reprimand Murtha in the matter)

Rogers had opposed a proposal by Murtha, who's chairman of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, to add $23 million to an intelligence bill to fund a drug intelligence center in his Pennsylvania district.

Rogers' office said Murtha sent a personal letter apologizing for the incident, but disclosed no details.

CNN's Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.

"We said that we would provide open government and honest leadership," said Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland.



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