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Ethics Complaint Filed Against Gorton Senator Had Industry Lawyers Help With Bill To Weaken Endangered Species Act

A consumer advocacy group filed a complaint Thursday with the Senate Ethics Committee over a senator’s reliance on industry lobbyists in writing legislation to overhaul the Endangered Species Act.

The complaint against Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., is the latest of several instances where Republican lawmakers have been found to rely heavily on industry lawyers in crafting legislation that would affect those same industries.

“The law is clear that the public’s business must be done by people on the public payroll,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, the private advocacy group that filed the complaint.

The complaint singles out the involvement of the National Endangered Species Act Reform Coalition in developing legislation Gorton is proposing to rewrite the federal law that protects endangered plants and animals.

Gorton is working with other senators on the proposal, expected to become the key bill the Senate will use later this year to soften the impact of the Endangered Species Act, which over the years has come under strong attack from timber, mining and farming interests.

The industry role in crafting the bill was outlined earlier this month in articles in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The New York Times. Gorton told the Times that he was “perfectly willing to get the free services of good lawyers” in drafting the bill.

Gorton could not be reached Thursday evening to comment on the Public Citizen complaint. Phone calls to his office went unanswered.

Public Citizen cited a memo from a Gorton staffer to the senator in which the industry coalition is praised for having done “a tremendous job” in taking Gorton’s general ideas about endangered species law reform “and putting them in the bill.”

“The coalition should have a section-by-section general summary of the draft bill together later today,” the staffer advised Gorton in the Feb. 28 memo.

The National Endangered Species Act Reform Coalition represents more than 180 groups and companies interested in rewriting the 22-year-old law, which is responsible for protecting plant and animal species in danger of extinction. Coalition members include timber, mining and petroleum companies often directly affected by the law.

Recently the Clinton administration criticized the practice of some Republican lawmakers of relying on industry lobbyists to help write legislation that directly affects them. EPA Administrator Carol Browner singled out the involvement of various industry lobbyists in developing revisions to the Clean Water Act by a House committee. She said in some cases the lobbyists wrote specific exemptions into the law that directly affect their industries.

Tags: Congress