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Frank joins House bid to curb lobbyists

WASHINGTON -- Four Democratic members of the House yesterday proposed rules changes that would make it more difficult for lawmakers to sneak provisions into legislation on behalf of special interests.

The proposals also aim to stop lobbyists from arranging and secretly financing travel for House members.

Representative David Obey of Wisconsin, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said he had not sought the support of Republicans for the proposals, and does not expect any.

Rather, Obey and his colleagues said, they hope for public support, following revelations that members of Congress gave legislative help to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who returned the favors with contributions and privately financed travel.

Obey is joined in the effort by Representatives Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Tom Allen of Maine, and David Price of North Carolina.

Obey, in an interview, said he was angry that a recently passed food and farm spending bill included a measure that allowed small amounts of nonorganic substances in products labeled ''USDA Organic." He said many of the lawmakers who voted for the compromise bill did not know the provision was there.

''If you got some lobbyist working the system so he gets something slipped in without a vote, or he convinces the leadership to take something out, you might as well hire the lobbyist to be your congressman," Obey said.

The Justice Department is investigating whether Abramoff, already charged with fraud in a Florida case, won any undue influence through donations and favors for lawmakers.

Obey said the travel restrictions were designed to ''separate legitimate travel from illegitimate travel. You get stories that make the whole institution look bad."

Representative Tom DeLay, the former House Republican leader from Texas, is among the lawmakers whose travel was financed by Abramoff. DeLay says he was not aware of it at the time, with a nonprofit group listed as sponsor.

House ethics rules ban lawmakers from accepting trips financed by lobbyists or registered agents of foreign countries.

Among the changes proposed by Obey's group:

The House could not join the Senate in a conference committee on a spending bill unless the Senate clearly identified its changes. This would make it easier to spot any buried special-interest provision, especially in a bill that might total hundreds of pages.

The House could not consider legislation unless copies were made available at least 24 hours before a vote. It could be waived only by a two-thirds majority.

It would be a violation of House ethics rules if a lawmaker advocates a special spending provision without disclosing a financial interest or any control over the entity being funded.

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