Carnahan unveils ethics, campaign finance proposals

Tuesday, July 20, 2010 | 4:28 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Democrat Robin Carnahan called for tighter fundraiser laws and a lifetime lobbying ban for Congress members Tuesday while characterizing Republican U.S. Senate rival Roy Blunt as a prime example of Washington's "culture of corruption."

Carnahan, Missouri's secretary of state, used the debut of her ethics and campaign finance proposals to launch her sharpest attack yet on Blunt, a southwest Missouri congressman and former member of House Republican leadership.

Blunt, meanwhile, released a new TV ad portraying Carnahan as a "rubber stamp" for President Barack Obama's "liberal agenda." The ad uses a brief clip from a Carnahan fundraiser earlier this month in which Obama declares "I need another vote" while stressing the importance of electing Carnahan.

Blunt and Carnahan have been campaigning against each other for more than a year, though they first must survive the Aug. 3 primaries. Neither faces an intraparty opponent with much money. But Blunt faces a particularly crowded Republican field, which includes state Sen. Chuck Purgason, a tea party favorite.

Carnahan's policy proposals Tuesday highlighted what she considers to be Blunt's flaws. Her proposals include:

— A lifetime ban on members of Congress becoming lobbyists and a six-year waiting period before their former staff can lobby their ex-employers. Carnahan's campaign released a list of more than 20 former staff members for Blunt or his House Republican whip office who later became lobbyists.

— A requirement that the dates, times and content of lawmakers' meetings with lobbyists be publicly posted online.

— A ban on contributions to members of congressional committees from people or entities under investigation by those particular committees.

— The elimination of leadership political action committees, which allow members of Congress to raise money separately from their campaign committees for other causes or candidates they support. Blunt's Rely on Your Beliefs committee has raised and spent more than $7 million over the past decade, though its figures are down for this election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign finances.

Carnahan called such committees a "backdoor way lobbyists can put more money into incumbents in Washington."

But Carnahan's campaign has accepted about $260,000 for this election from other people's leadership PACs, compared with $336,000 for Blunt, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Carnahan also proposed to give subpoena power to the Office of Congressional Ethics and to require candidates to file finance reports monthly instead of quarterly.

To highlight her plan, Carnahan distributed excerpts from an ethics proposal made by Blunt during his unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in 1992. One of Blunt's ideas that she cited called for a ban on contributions from lobbyists to legislators and elected officials. She said it was sad Blunt never was able to enact that.

"There are some in Washington, like my likely opponent Congressman Blunt, who have just gotten so caught up in the culture of the place that they forget who they work for," Carnahan said at a campaign stop in a farm supply store in Columbia.

Blunt spokesman Rich Chrismer called Carnahan's ethics proposal ironic, noting that her brothers were state lobbyists when Carnahan's father was governor a decade ago. He suggested Carnahan's proposal was a distraction from more important issues such as the economy, government spending, national defense and energy policies.

"It's a well-known rule in politics that when you do not want to or can't talk about the issues, you come up with an ethics package," said Chrismer, adding that Blunt also has supported "tough ethics packages."

Carnahan suggested it was Blunt who was diverting attention in the race by focusing his campaign on Obama and Democratic congressional leaders.

"All that Congressman Blunt has to say in this campaign is that he's running against Barack Obama and thinks I'm going to be a rubber stamp," Carnahan said when asked about Blunt's new ad. "The fact is I've never been a rubber stamp for anybody and I'm not going to start in the United States Senate."

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