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Loopy Loopholes keep "culture of corruption" alive and well
Posted by: McQ on Monday, March 12, 2007

John Fund reports in today's WSJ that a type of "March Madness" has descended on Washington DC and it has nothing to do with basketball. March is traditionally the month lobbyists - and their gifts - attempt to influence Congress into including their pet project in next year's budget.

As Fund notes, we've undergone a supposed change in ethics which would preclude the sort of gifting previously seen in Congress. Congress has passed rules that "cap most individual gifts at $50 per elected official or staffer, with an annual limit of $100 per recipient from any single source."

Well, except:
But local governments, public universities and Indian tribes are exempt from the limit, so they are able to shower members and their staffs with such goodies as luxury skybox tickets to basketball games and front-row concert tickets.
Yes, local governments, public universities and Indian tribes (can you say Jack Abramoff?) have no limits nor are members of Congress or their staffers held to any limits in accepting gifts from these three entities.

Now you don't have to be the sharpest knife in the drawer to see the possibilities these exemptions present to other lobbying groups who aren't exempt. The term "strategic alliance" seems apt. Teaming up with those that can indeed shower Congress members and staffers with gifts seems a no-brainer, doesn't it?

Defenders of the exemptions say:
Defenders of the public-sector lobbying loophole call it a necessary part of communication with Congress on important public-policy issues. But then why have the gift bans on all other lobbyists, including those from nonprofit organizations? The same lobbying rules that apply to private-sector lobbyists should also apply to taxpayer-funded government lobbyists.

Certainly the current system is ripe for abuse. Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff once told me that he built his lobbying business in such a way that all his major clients were Indian tribes and local governments, in part because he knew he could wine and dine power brokers on Capitol Hill without breaking any laws.
Said another way, despite all the hullabaloo over the Abramoff scandal and the corruption it brought to Congress, the very same possibility for a repeat exists today as when that story broke.

Why does "communication with Congress on important public-policy issues" necessarily mean one must show up laden with gifts? Why can't those discussions simply be made and argued on their merits? How does one deny being influenced by expensive gifts, especially when, for the most part, any opposition lobbyists to those three exempt entities and their agendas would very likely be precluded from providing gifts under the new rules?

This is a loophole which should be closed and closed immediately. And if Democrats were really serious about the "culture of corruption" and as upset about Abramoff as they claimed, it should be something they do quickly and unhesitatingly.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

I agree that the loophole is bad news, but it will be hard to spark much outrage without actual concrete examples of such faux alliances happening. I’ll go look around for some, and suggest others do the same.
Written By: Platypus
I agree that the loophole is bad news, but it will be hard to spark much outrage without actual concrete examples of such faux alliances happening. I’ll go look around for some, and suggest others do the same.
Since this is all so new, I’d guess such alliances are still evolving, but yes, agreed, examples of them would be most useful in making the point.
Written By: McQ
We have the best Congress that money can buy. Why is anyone surprised the Democratic’s reform is riddled with loopholes? It was an attempt to put lipstick on a pig in the first place, cosmetic changes to placate the gullible and embarrass their predecessors.

Did the five-day work week last more than one week? I don’t think so. The other “Reforms” touted by the new Congress have or will go the same way. This is the track record of reform.

It has been said the definition of an “honest” politician, is one who “stays bought.” every day Washington and State legislatures prove this point.

Despair not, as corrupt as things are today, (Cold cash in the freezer) it was far worse in the past. Now the bribes have to be disguised. For most of our history there was no attempt to hide the corruption.

Anytime an organization has the power to spend other peoples money, there will be those who influence that organization to spend the money on them. This can not be stopped. Any rules or laws written by lawyers, can be circumvented by other lawyers, and the money rolls in.
Written By: James E. Fish
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