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Lobbyists Fearful of New Legal Risks

Posted Aug 7, 2007 7:18 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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An ethics bill passed by Congress last week imposes new legal risks on lobbyists.

Washington, D.C., defense lawyer Stanley Brand told the New York Times the legislation “is a minefield” for lobbyists. “It should send shivers down lobbyists’ spines,” he said.

President Bush has not indicated whether he will sign the bill.

The measure bars lobbyists from giving gifts, trips or meals of more than nominal value to lawmakers and their aides, and imposes penalties of up to $200,000 and five years in prison for violations. It also requires lobbyists to disclose fund-raising contributions and certify that no improper gifts were given.

Some lobbyists are concerned prosecutors will use the disclosure requirements to link campaign contributions to congressional votes. One cautious firm has advised clients to avoid conversations about campaign contributions when discussing policy with lawmakers.

Prosecutors treated campaign contributions as bribes in plea agreements involving the lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former U.S. Rep. Randall Cunningham, the newspaper says.

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