Thursday, March 30, 2006

Lax lobby laws

by Laura Michaels, DI editorial writer

Lobbying reform finally received the attention it merits for the first time in more than a decade Wednesday, when the U.S. Senate passed restrictions on gifts to lawmakers and barred former lawmakers and senior aides from lobbying Congress for two years. These changes appear harsh on the surface, but, sadly, they will do little to address the larger issues of corruption prevalent within lawmaker-lobbyist relationships.

The new restrictions do not ban private travel, much of which is done by lawmakers on corporate jets at heavily discounted prices. The bill also does little to sever the ties between lobbyists and lawmakers' money-making machines — it was decided those issues relate to campaign finance, not lobbying.

The Senate also voted overwhelmingly to reject the creation of an independent ethics office to investigate accusations of wrongdoing.

The Senate's choice not to acknowledge the need for a separate ethics body is especially disappointing. The 67-30 vote rejecting the measure came just hours after Jack Abramoff, whose lobbying antics prompted a federal criminal investigation, was sentenced to nearly six years in prison for his part in the fraudulent purchase of a cruise line. Despite this conviction, or perhaps because of it, lawmakers are refusing to allow an outside committee to handle abuse accusations.

The public cannot be expected to trust a system in which lawmakers are accountable only to themselves. They set their own rules and acts as their own judges; this lack of accountability and transparency to the public is not acceptable. If lawmakers expect the public to be serious about issues, then lawmakers must be serious about reform.

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