When the U.S. House of Representatives votes 411-8 in favor of anything, one would expect some results on the issue involved. That's how the final count ran Tuesday in what is considered the most sweeping overhaul of congressional ethics rules since the Watergate era of the 1970s.
It would be interesting to hear why those eight people did not favor such important action, but the fact they are in such a paltry minority is encouraging to Americans increasingly disturbed by the conduct of their elected officials.
Democrats targeted a Republican "culture of corruption" during the past election campaign and they got notable support at the polls. The bill would impose new rules on lawmakers and lobbyists and deny pensions to lawmakers convicted of felonies - action that is long overdue. Word is the Senate will quickly pass a similar bill and send it to the White House for the president's signature. It is hard to believe George W. Bush will hesitate to sign.
Republicans have much to do to get their house in order even though Democrats also have had their unsavory moments in the recent past.
"If there was one message that was abundantly clear based on the results of last year's election, it was that the American people want us to end the culture of corruption that has enveloped the legislative process," said Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
The 411-8 vote comes after two former Republican lawmakers - Rep. Randy Cunningham of California and Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio - and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff were sent to prison on corruption charges. About a dozen other current and former lawmakers have come under scrutiny. Now federal agents involved in a public corruption investigation have searched the Alaska home of Sen. Ted Stevens, the Senate's longest-serving Republican. (Stevens has denied any wrongdoing.)
The bill would, for the first time, require disclosure of campaign contributions that lobbyists collect from clients, friends and others. The practice is known as bundling and is a major source of influencing politicians. Under particular scrutiny in the new law will be the two fields that wield the most influence through lobbying - the insurance and pharmaceutical businesses. There is evidence that both need to be reined in sharply.
Lobbyists are going to have to disclose their activities more often, pay fines up to $200,000 for willful violations and face a criminal penalty of up to five years in prison for "knowingly and corruptly" violating the rules.
The new legislation is encouraging and welcome. But will it take? Will it get the enforcement it needs from the right sources? High hopes of progress in this field have been dashed too often in the past.