The Jack Abramoff/lobbyist scandals have Congressional Republicants and Democrats scrambling to clean up their act. Or to at least present the appearance of sincere efforts at reform.
Both sides need to remember that, if newly created and/or enforced lobbyist rules are sans teeth, they’re going to be as worthless as those that allowed us to get where we are now. In a few years we’ll be right back at Scramble Central.
The most favorable option would be to ban the practice altogether – at least, as it exists today. It’s doubtful lobbyists will ever go away, though, while there are so many goodies to spread around. But there are compelling reasons to make significant changes in how lobbists earn their paychecks.
Average folks don’t and never will have the pocketbooks to compete with lobbyists for lawmakers’ attention.
Average lawmakers apparently don’t have the fortitude to resist lobbyists’ lure, and readily put their influence up for sale. This often means proposing or amending bills to benefit the lobbyists’ clients – the pharmaceuticals industry, healthcare giants, energy, etc.
Republicants this week suggested a ban on accepting gifts, meals and travel from lobbyists, but only under certain circumstances. Meaning, there’s still a way around the rules.
Small gifts, such as tchotchkes, and other goodies valued at $20 or less would be permitted under this ban.
But that has at least one prominent Republicant perturbed. Mississippi Senator Trent Lott called some of his party’s proposed reforms "outrageous."
Protested Lott, "…now we're going to say you can't have a meal for more than 20 bucks. Where you going to, to McDonalds?"
Hey Trent, how about taking some of that Congressional salary of yours and buying your own goddamn lunch for a change?
In a startling proposal that’s sure to be shot down, the GOP also mooted rescinding the pension of any lawmaker convicted of a crime related to their office.
Both parties are suggesting the “cooling off” period former lawmakers and their associates must observe before heading back to Congress as a lobbyist be doubled – from one year to two.
Two years is an inconsequential delay when most of your best buddies will probably still be in office after that time. Indeed, some remain there for decades. How about a minimum of five years? Ten?
To stem the culture of corruption, Democrats included a ban on lobbyist gifts of any value in their counteroffer. But, sadly, their plan allows convicted lawmakers to keep their pensions.
It’s notable that, while party leaders are making proposals, the Senate Ethics Committee remains strangely AWOL during the biggest ethics scandal to hit US politics in ages.
There is a legitimate purpose for “advocates” in the Congress. A person who lost a loved one in a car accident and wants to push for higher auto safety standards is a hypothetical example.
These advocates, or whatever we want to call them, should be permitted to interact with lawmakers. However, they should be required to personally visit a Congressperson in his or her office, and during normal business hours. This would virtually eliminate the possibility of any nice dinners (I suppose they could order in), skybox tickets or golf trips changing hands.
What if lobbyists who are former lawmakers want to go on a golf outing or hunting trip with elected officials who may be their closest friends? Fine, but the lawmakers should have to recuse themselves from any involvement in legislation benefiting a lobbyist’s client. That would mean no more earmarking, and no more pressing their colleagues for favorable votes!
Until we instate powerful, binding ethics rules like these in Congress – and elect politicians with integrity – we’ll continue seeing our legislators franticly trying to pull up their pants as their parents are coming in the door.