AP Wire | 11/14/2005 | Casey unveils ethics plan; Santorum calls for debates: "Posted on Mon, Nov. 14, 2005
Casey unveils ethics plan; Santorum calls for debates
WASHINGTON - Pennsylvania Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. on Monday criticized Sen. Rick Santorum's involvement with lobbyists and unveiled a plan to require lobbyists to report every substantive conversation with federal lawmakers.
Casey, a likely Democratic challenger to Santorum in 2006, said the two-term senator is a leader of the "K Street Project," a GOP effort to pressure lobbying firms to hire Republicans and keep money flowing to the party.
"What happens at those meetings and as a result of those meetings, is at best of questionable ethics," said Casey, whose plan would bar members of Congress from "using threats or coercion" to influence hiring decisions of lobbying firms.
Former House Majority leader Tom DeLay and lobbyist Jack Abramoff also have ties to the project, which is named after the street where many lobbyists work. Both have been indicted on charges unrelated to the project and have denied any wrongdoing. Casey's press briefing was held at Signatures restaurant in Washington, which used to be owned by Abramoff.
Robert Traynham, a spokesman for Santorum, R-Pa., called Casey's plan a "desperate attempt" to draw attention away from the fact that he had not taken a stand on whether he supports Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.
Traynham, who showed up at Casey's news conference and waited in the restaurant while reporters met with Casey in a private room, also distributed a letter written by Santorum challenging Casey to 10 debates.
He said Santorum participates in K Street meetings regularly, but "I'm not in those meetings, so I'm not going to comment on them." He said Democrats hold meetings similar to the K Street meetings.
Traynham said issues such as ethics should be discussed in a debate rather than in a "clandestine" meeting with reporters. "Let's talk about these issues in a very public way, i.e. in front of the audience in a debate," he said.
Casey's campaign manager, Jay Reiff, said Casey would be happy to debate Santorum after candidates win their respective party nomination, but accused Santorum of trying to "distract attention away from his involvement with the K Street Project."
Casey said he is waiting to learn more about Alito before deciding on whether he supports the nomination to the Supreme Court. Traynham said Santorum is leaning toward voting to confirm Alito.
Santorum, the No. 3 Senate Republican, was 16 points behind Casey in the Keystone Poll released last week. The race is already one of the closest watched Senate races in the country.
Casey's plan would require lobbyists to disclose on the Internet details about conversations with members of Congress on the same day they occur. It also would require former members to wait two years to lobby on Capitol Hill, and require politicians to reimburse corporations who fly them on private jets for the price of a private jet flight - not just for the price of a first-class ticket.
Casey acknowledged that he had flown on a jet paid for by a law firm to an event in Texas, but he said he would not be doing that again. He said his plan would help abolish the "culture of corruption" in Washington and called on Santorum to join the reform effort because Pennsylvanians are looking for a "fresh approach and substantial change."
"Last time I checked one party had all the marbles. They've got the presidency, they've got the House and the Senate, and Sen. Santorum is ... a very influential leader with this White House ... he should be a leader in implementing these kinds of changes," Casey said.
Traynham said Santorum in 1992 was in the "Gang of Seven," which he said was responsible for closing the controversial House bank, and has always been transparent with voters about where he stands on issues.
The Keystone Poll also showed Casey with a sizable lead over Chuck Pennacchio, a Philadelphia college professor. It did not mention another likely candidate, Philadelphia pension lawyer Alan Sandals."