Time passes, and so does the drive for lobbying reform Posted by: McQ
on Saturday, March 11, 2006
The short public memory is aiding those in Congress who'd just as soon see the call for lobbying reform silently die.
The drive for a tighter lobbying law, just two months ago a major priority on Capitol Hill, is losing momentum, a victim of shifting political interests, infighting among House Republicans and a growing sense among lawmakers of both parties that wholesale change may not be needed after all.
In the Senate, debate on a lobbying bill was derailed this week by the fracas over port security, and it is unclear when the measure will return. A chief architect of the legislation, Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said Friday that the bill was "way off track" and that she feared its chances had been jeopardized.
"People have turned to other issues," Ms. Collins said in a telephone interview from Maine. "This was our window, and I'm afraid it will be slammed shut."
Wonderful. Of course, in reality, it's hard to imagine that those who are the chief beneficiaries of lobbying efforts would ever seriously want to change the system providing the benefits. However hope springs eternal, doesn't it?
But in the back of your mind, you really knew it didn't have a chance. Why? No backing from leadership. Other than initial rhetorical support, Sentor Frist and Speaker Hastart have provided nothing in terms of leadership or shown any desire to really tackle this problem. And, out of sight, out of mind, the push is quietly dying, just as the majority of Congress hoped it would.
The initial votes on the Senate bill have shown the limits of the appetite for change. Already a Senate committee has rejected a plan, advanced by Ms. Collins and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, to create an independent office to investigate ethics abuses. And while the Senate did vote this week in favor of a ban on gifts and meals from lobbyists, the real fight will be over whether to limit a much more lucrative perk: private travel, and lawmakers' use of corporate jets.
Window dressing. An artifice which will allow senators to vote for "tough new lobbying restricitons" while leaving the most troublesome aspect (and most desired perk) of the system intact. Oh, and keep ethics monitoring in-house where particularly dicey problems can be downplayed, have probes restricted or ignored.
After saying in January that he would end his regular meetings with lobbyists, Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), the third-ranking GOP leader in the Senate, has continued to meet with many of the same lobbyists at the same time and on the same day of the week.
Get the point folks? Santorum, never the brightest penny in the roll when it comes to politics, is simply the most blatant. Other Senatorial (and House) noses are being thumbed in your general direction.
Meaningful lobbying reform?
Further, Congress tends to have a short attention span. Without a grass-roots hue and cry of the sort that pushed lawmakers to block the Dubai port deal this week, it was perhaps inevitable that the push for lobbying law changes would diminish.
Well here's some "hue". Let's see what sort of "cry" it might generate, if any.
These guys, Hastert et al included, really only want to solve one problem - the appearance that they are captive to lobbyists. They don’t really think they’re doing anything wrong. Trips, gifts, whatever - they genuinely don’t believe those things affect their judgement. They simply know that it looks bad and gives reporters and political opponents something to whack them with, so they want to do something about the surface appearance while continuing business as usual.
This isn’t going to change until they are convinced that they are doing something wrong, and they have an entire inside-the-Beltway culture to assure them that, not only are their actions not wrong, they are actually for the greater good.
They’ve rigged the game, via CFR, redistricting, arcane election rules, etc. so that they are protected against all but the most unusual threats to their re-election. So there’s no feedback mechanism to tell them when they’re doing something inappropriate. The press doesn’t help, because they are clearly biased against Republicans, so it’s easy for Republicans to simply ignore the substance of everything they say. When the din from the press becomes loud enough, the Republicans pay some lip service to reform, and the Democrats use the opportunity to score some rhetorical points, but neither side really wants anything to change. As I said before:
Until a structural reform starts keeping members of Congress away from the DC culture, nothing of consequence will change. The lobbyists will still control the information flow to the politicians and their staffers, and everything that gets through Congress will reflect the desires of the political class and the "government is good" culture of DC.
So I view the current exercise in rulemaking as pointless.