By Dale McFeatters
The Senate, by a lopsided margin, has passed a bill designed to show that lawmakers are serious about cracking down on lobbying abuses. The bill is greatly watered down from what the leadership said it intended, and, frankly, the new rules won't change much.
Senators may still accept privately financed travel and fly by private jet, but they must check in with the Senate ethics committee first. Gifts, meals and sports tickets from registered lobbyists are banned, but not from the companies who employ them.
There is more transparency, which is good, in that lobbyists must file reports more frequently, disclose their role in indirect lobbying, such as organizing grass-roots campaigns, and the filings must now be Internet-accessible.
This is far short of what the Senate set out to do, and for that reason eight senators, including John McCain, R-Ariz., author of a stronger measure, voted against it. The House version is weaker still.
No one seems to want to address the tricky and potentially more corrupting role of lobbyists and officials of companies with business before Congress serving as fund-raisers for the lawmakers' election campaigns.
Congress doesn't really need special regulations to force it to act ethically. All it really requires is leadership from the top. When rank-and-file members see someone like former House Republican leader Tom DeLay of Texas being squired by special interests to exclusive and expensive golf resorts, they might understandably feel entitled to do likewise.
If the House and Senate leadership and the committee chairs don't exploit these dubious perks, and the lawmakers who do aren't promoted to those positions, the rest of the members will catch on quickly. In other words, set an example.
Ethics reform is one of those issues that flare brightly after some new outrage and then fade quickly as members revert to business as usual. Thus, the campaign for higher standards is not over. Said McCain after the vote: "The good news is there will be more indictments, and we will be revisiting this issue."
Sadly, he's right.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)
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