Noticing the stench
Published: Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 1:26 a.m.
Five key elements are essential if Congress
is going to have a meaningful lobbyist reform bill.
Here's the good news.
The stench of corruption emanating from the D.C. Swamp has well and truly settled into the nostrils of Americans back home. And they may be in a mood to throw the odorous rascals out in 2006.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll this week indicated that 58 percent of those surveyed consider the scandal surrounding recently indicted "superlobbyist" Jack Abramoff to be "evidence of widespread corruption in Washington."
And in a USA Today poll, respondents said that only the war, terrorism and health care are more important election year issues than corruption.
Indeed, in that poll, more people called "corruption in government" an "extremely important issue," (43 percent) than the economy (38 percent.)
Simply put: Americans don't much like the smell corruption and they don't think it ought to be what passes for "business as usual" in the nation's capitol.
With Abramoff destined for the slammer - and with a slew of indictments almost certainly to follow - politicians in Congress are suddenly falling all over themselves to sponsor bills cracking down on the kind of raw influence buying that Abramoff made notorious.
Some of the bills would require more "transparency" in lobbyist disclosure reports. Some would place restrictions on the ability of lawmakers and staffers to accept free trips and gifts from those who seek to influence them. Some would oblige former members and former staffers to spend more time "cooling their heels" before returning to lobby their ex-colleagues.
And almost certainly, some of the bills will be sham reforms that would be easily evaded by a still-growing army of D.C. influence peddlers.
''To effectively address the scandals in Washington, which revolve around the multiple ways lobbyists use money to buy influence, Congress must reform the lobbying, campaign finance and ethics rules, and create new means for enforcing these rules,'' Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, said this week.
So what will it take to "clean up" Congress? Here are five "key requirements" for ethical reform as suggested by Public Citizen, a good government consumer advocacy group.
1. Public financing of elections: This is the Holy Grail of reform. So long as America's campaign finance system is "privatized," the big money boys will find ways to get around any restrictions placed on them. Only public financing will take away the corrupting influence of special interest money.
"Barring that," says Public Citizen, "ban lobbyists from contributing from those they lobby, bundling campaign contributions from friends and colleagues and organizing fund-raising events."
2. Slow down the revolving door between government service and lobbying. Require at least a two year waiting period between public service and lobbying. Revoke floor privileges and other special access rights for former members-turned lobbyists.
3. Put an absolute ban on lobbyist-financed "free" trips.
4. Put an absolute ban on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers.
5. Establish an independent, non-partisan "ethics watchdog" to monitor compliance in Congress. It is clear that the House and Senate ethics committees have not done their jobs.
As Public Citizen notes "corruption by lobbyists and lawmakers does not begin or end with Abramoff; it is a systemic problem. Lobbying today is essentially legalized bribery."
Americans have caught the whiff of corruption, and they don't like what they smell. Political deodorant in the form of a sham "reform" bill won't make the smell go away.
It's time for Congress to come clean.
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