The Senate on Tuesday voted to ban members from taking pay from special interest groups for giving speeches.
But Utah's senators - who voted against it - said it has "zero chance" of actually becoming law.That's because the ban was added to a controversial campaign reform law that is given little chance of final passage because of competing interests between the House and Senate and Democrats and Republicans.
"The House and Senate might pass it. But the president would veto it, and we would uphold it. The alternative is to no longer have a Republican Party because their bill would elect only Democrats," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "It has absolutely zero chance . . . The vote was just a show thing."
But the Senate voted 72-24 to ban speech fees, called honorariums, beginning in January. It cast a similar vote last year on another campaign reform bill that was never enacted.
Special interests pay senators up to $2,000 per speech. Hatch and Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, say they need that extra money to stretch their $101,900 salaries to meet expenses of having homes in Washington and Utah.
Garn and Hatch are among the least wealthy members of the Senate - which contains numerous multimillionaires. Many of the less wealthy members saw the honorarium ban as a hypocritical attack against them by richer colleagues who have no money worries.
So the poorer members, in turn, passed an amendment to limit "unearned income" such as dividends from family businesses, which could amount to millions of dollars a year for some senators.
"What's good for the goose is good for the gander," said Garn, who was a co-sponsor of that ban directed against the wealthy. "If they insinuate a senator may be influenced by taking a $2,000 honorarium from some group, wouldn't a senator also be influenced by earning $100,000 in dividends from the same industry?"
Garn and Hatch are also among the Senate's most staunch supporters of honorariums.
Garn said, "I prefer honorariums to a taxpayer-funded pay raise, as long as the fees are fully disclosed. That way people can decide whether they are justified. I feel they are, or I wouldn't have accepted them all these years."
Hatch said, "I've never seen anything wrong with honorariums. They allow you to make your point to many groups across the board. It is also the only way I can raise money for charity."
But Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., sponsor of the honorarium ban said during debate, "Let's not delude ourselves. You're not being invited and paid $2,000 because you're a great orator, a Cicero." He added it's time to end "the perception that the men and women who serve in this body have a price tag on them."
Financial disclosure forms filed last week show the following:
Earned Kept Donated to charity
Garn $42,500 $27,300 $15,200
Hatch $69,900 $23,135 $46,765
At least $9,500 of Garn's honorariums came from finance groups interested in his job as ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee.
At least $12,500 of Hatch's came from labor and management groups interested in his job as ranking Republican on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee.
Senate rules allowed members to keep honorariums amounting up to $27,337. The rest must go to charity.