WASHINGTON -- Pledging to end 40 years of shadowy dealings with powerful special interests, the House passed and sent to President Clinton yesterday a bill requiring thousands of unregistered lobbyists to disclose their purposes and sources of income.
The bipartisan bill, which passed by a 421-0 margin after its sponsors fought off repeated efforts to scuttle it with contentious amendments, was the second major internal reform measure to be adopted by Congress this year.
The first was the decision by the House and Senate to bar their members from accepting most gifts from lobbyists and other members of the public.
Still awaiting action in Congress is the most contentious reform of all: curbs on the way election campaigns are financed. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia has called for a bipartisan commission to report on that issue by May, but ardent House reformers in both parties say they want the commission to act by March 1.
Sen. William S. Cohen, a Maine Republican, said passage of the gift ban and lobbying measures would provide "momentum for the effort to enact a campaign-finance reform bill, I hope as early as next summer."
One of the lobbying bill's co-sponsors, Rep. John Bryant, a Texas Democrat, said: "The principal importance of this bill's passage is that it goes to the deep concern of many people that unseen forces are influencing the outcome of legislation here. With this legislation, if there's heavy-handed lobbying going on, people will be able to see who's doing it and why."
Mr. Clinton has said that he will sign the measure.
The bill requires paid lobbyists -- most of whom have simply chosen not to register in the past -- to register; provide a list of their contacts in Congress and the executive branch; identify the issues on which they lobbied; and report how much they were paid to do so. That information will be kept on public record. For the most part, the bill does not restrict the ability of lobbyists to continue lobbying.
Under the bill, which will go into effect Jan. 1, lobbyists who fail to register could be slapped with a civil fine of up to $50,000.
In the Senate, which voted 98-0 for the bill in July, Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan said the current law was so riddled with loopholes that federal law enforcers had simply thrown up ++ their hands and declined to enforce it.
In one case, he said, Senate investigators found that six defense contractors, who had actually spent nearly $8 million lobbying Congress in 1989, reported spending $135,000. In another case involving truck and van imports, Mr. Levin added, only six of 48 lobbyists for foreign manufacturers had bothered to register.
"Lobbying is a constitutionally protected activity," said Democratic Rep. Paul McHale of Pennsylvania, "but one best exercised with maximum public exposure. In politics, as elsewhere, sunshine is the best disinfectant."
The bill would sharply curtail the lobbying activities of certain large tax-exempt organizations, such as the National Rifle Association and the American Association of Retired Persons, by making them choose between receiving federal grants and lobbying Congress and the federal government.
"If they engage in lobbying," said Rep. Ed Bryant, a Tennessee Republican, "they are ineligible; they can't receive federal funds."
Although the bill closes most of the long-standing loopholes in lobbying legislation, it does not require professional lobbyists to report their efforts to mobilize "grass-roots" campaigns to influence Congress.
Such campaigns are staged by pressure groups to make it appear that the public is aroused about issues in which the groups have a vital stake. The groups hire telephone banks to contact voters in targeted states or congressional districts and urge them to call or write to their senators or representatives.
In fighting off efforts to amend the bill and force it into a conference with the Senate, the chief sponsors -- Republican Rep. Charles T. Canady of Florida and Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts -- argued successfully that enemies of the legislation would find a way to bury it there, as has happened before.
Lobbying rules have been lax since a 1954 Supreme Court ruling weakened disclosure and reporting laws. Repeated efforts since then to close loopholes have been defeated.