Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Congress: Reform thyself

As DC Republicans nervously wait for the scandals to hit the fan in the Abramoff bribery debacle, they are also devoting a lot of energy (hot air mainly) to something called "lobbying reform".

You have, or will soon see, a plethora of news articles like this one from the Washington Post:

Hill Weighs Curbs on Lobbying:
More Disclosure, Ban on Sponsored Trips Under Consideration

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 12, 2006; Page A04

Congress is poised to pass measures early this year that would clamp down on lobbying activity and possibly end some lawmaker travel.

Lawmakers are moving quickly to devise lobbying legislation and to approve it soon after Congress returns later this month. The rush has been caused by recent lobbying scandals, including the guilty plea last week of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is cooperating with prosecutors in a corruption investigation of Congress.

But while I think that more disclosure is great and that bans on exorbitant gifts and trips are long overdue, if the goal is to eliminate much of the outright quid pro quo horse-trading that passes for government these days, at least one of two other things must happen.

Congresscritters must be forbidden from accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists and their surrogates and/or they must give up the ability to place earmarks in legislation.

And of the two, I believe that eliminating the earmark would be far the most effective anit-corruption tactic, and thus the most dificult to enact.

As I've earlier remarked while blogging on governmental malfeasance in both the preparation for disasters like Katrina, as well as FEMA's inadequate response (a state of affairs that continues today by the way, though in Texas and Oklahoma):
Currently the administration and congress are seeking to divert attention from their corrupt and irresponsible behavior by focusing their wrath on the admittedly woefully inadequate disaster response. But as heads cool, and minds take over, it is past time to hold the President, and especialy Congress responsible for the pork-laden earmark process and the feckless use of our nation's resources.

As we can see from the potentially avoidable tragedy of New Orlean's burst levees, such negligence borders on the criminal, if not the treasonous.

The Congressional earmark process must be severly curtailed, if not eliminated entirely, and in the 2006 mid-terms I expect a promise to that effect from any Congresscritter with the barest hope of being elected.

As has been shown over and over again, efforts to reduce the flow of money, either directly on indirectly into politicians' pockets have proven futile. If corporations and wealthy individuals have both money to spend and an expectation it'll buy them a favor, they'll find a way. What campaign finance laws and such really do is serve as full employment insurance for millions of very clever lawyers looking for the (inevitable it seems) loophole.

No, rather than throw down a rather porous gauntlet for interest groups and their battalions of lawyers, better to enforce a very simple rule for a few hundred congresscritters: No more earmarks.

If lobbyists can no longer count on getting a specific bit of legislation into the books simply by getting Congressman X seats for the Superbowl, they'll be much less inclined to even try. These are businessmen after all, and like any good businessman, a lobbyist will want to get the most bang for the buck. So if no bang is there to be had, neither will be the bucks.

Until congress takes this simple step, any "reform" will be just so much windowdressing.

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