Friday, January 20, 2006

Lobbyist Loopholes

Since Jack Abramhoff and other lobbyists became radioactive, legislators and other folks on the beltway have been trying to distance themselves from what many of us hope will end up as an independent official investigation into the corruption that exists around lobbying. Our goal, of course, would be reform. I suspect that reform is another word in that corruption of language that the Bush administration uses. We might know if only we had the decoder ring. We'll just have to wait to see what their definition turns out to be.

When I say reform with regards to lobbying, I say shut down the donations, lock it up, throw away the key, don't allow donations from lobbyists, don't allow accepting lobbyists "gifts". As a former employee of a major defense contractor, our ethical rules were well defined. We were allowed to go to lunch with our suppliers; I think the limit for a meal was $20 maximum- that was 20 years ago, so $20 was probably a fair amount. The parsing did go on then; did the $20 include the tip? Did it include any taxes? Did it include alcohol, which was prohibited by other personnel regulations, but there were some who did not abstain.

Lawmakers are speaking out offering their solution to lobbyists donations. I'm not impressed with the proposal presented by Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert (R-Ill). Although his proposal will ban meals as allowable, he forgot to mention, "except in certain cases" And that is when the parsing begins as described by the
Washington Post.

According to lobbyists and ethics experts, even if Hastert's proposal is enacted, members of Congress and their staffs could still travel the world on an interest group's expense and eat steak on a lobbyist's account at the priciest restaurants in Washington. The only requirement would be that whenever a lobbyist pays the bill, he or she must also hand the lawmaker a campaign contribution. Then the transaction would be perfectly okay.

More evidence that the Republicans don't mean to do a darned thing about lobby reform is the assignment of Rick Santorum (R-PA) as the person who will head up the GOP's effort on lobbying reform. We can thank Bill Frist for that. Come on, there are enough foxes watching hen houses in DC, but this is downright insulting. Santorum is the last person who should be working on ethics reform. How many times does Santorum have to vote against ethics issues until we understand his true principles? This isn't pretty, not pretty at all, but let me count the ways.

    1. Santorum Twice Tried to Kill 1994 Lobbying Reform Package.
    2. Santorum Voted Against Lobbyist Gift Ban.
    3. Santorum Voted Against Lobbying Regulations for Former Homeland Security Officials.
    4. Santorum Runs the K Street Project, Places Republicans in Top Lobbying Jobs.
    5. Santorum Threatened Consequences Against Motion Picture Association When It Hired A Democrat.
    6. Santorum Complained When A Democrat Became Boeing’s Top Lobbyist.
    7. Senate Ethics Committee Questioned Santorum’s Behavior.
    8. Santorum Has Received More Money From Lobbyists Than Any Other 2006
The DSCC Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee issued this statement:

“If Republicans were serious about cleaning up Washington, their first step would be denouncing lawmakers like Rick Santorum, not putting one like him in charge of reform"

The Republicans haven't convinced me they are serious and neither have the Democrats, although the DSCC's statement is a start. Maybe "ethical values" is another one of those words in GW's corruption of language. I can't wait to get my decoder ring.

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