Predictable Failure of Lobbying Reform

When the Jack Abramoff scandal was the scandal du jour, and Tom DeLay’s money laundering indictment made headlines every day, Republicans knew they had to act quickly to clean up the reputation of the Congress. They replaced DeLay with John Boehner, who made it clear that he would get the job done. From a February 2nd Washington Post article:

Boehner . . . called for change to prove to voters that the Republican Party is taking the corruption scandal seriously.

By “the job,” of course, I do not mean cleaning up Congress’ act–I mean the convincing voters part. So the Republicans talked about reform, and plans were discussed and crafted, and in the end, a watered down reform bill that will improve things slightly passed the Senate. The House version, where Boehner is in charge, is even weaker than the senate version. From today’s Washington Post:

The Senate largely avoided curtailing the behavior of lawmakers. It decided to prohibit lawmakers from accepting meals and gifts from registered lobbyists, but shelved a plan offered by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) yesterday that would have applied that ban to companies and organizations that employ those lobbyists. The House measure would not bar meals or gifts from lobbyists or from anyone else.

The article describes both measures in summary, and they appear to dole out a few minor restrictions, require somewhat fuller disclosure, and . . . that’s it. It seems that Congress just doesn’t get it: we’re tired of corruption in American politics. I note with some shame that the Senate measure passed 90-8, which means many Democrats also voted for it. Come on, guys. Your constituents want stronger barriers between these shady dealings and our elected officials. I know it’s fun to fly on nice jets, but come on.

The editorial pages of two of my favorite newspapers were critical as well. From the New York Times:

Facing voters’ flagging confidence, the Senate chose to emphasize greater disclosure by lobbyists while rejecting such vital reforms as the creation of an independent office to investigate ethics abuses. The instinct to protect privileged clubbiness carried the day, most glaringly when the Senate spiked any idea of ending lawmakers’ shameless use of the executive jets so eagerly offered by corporate officials bent on insider access.

and the Washington Post:

If the Senate bill is disappointing, though, the House is poised to do even worse. A proposal unveiled last month by the Republican leadership would do nothing to restrict gifts from lobbyists. It would merely impose a temporary moratorium on privately funded travel while the ethics committee studies what to do — or, more cynically, while members wait for the storm over Jack Abramoff to blow over. It suffers from the same shortcomings as the Senate measure in terms of enforcement and corporate jets.

I would like to thank Senators Obama, Feingold, and Kerry for correctly voting against this garbage. In the United States, the people should have the power, not the lobbyists. The addiction to luxury and easy money is one that Congress, both parties, should break, and the sooner the better.

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