The more things change, the more they stay the same

The new Democratic House of Representatives’ quick action banning trips paid for by lobbyists or other special interest shows the new leadership of Congress is serious about reforming the corruption that control Congress.

Or does it?

100606money2.jpgAmong the many celebrations thrown by the Democrats this past week as part of their resumption of power on Capitol Hill was a high-dollar fund raising event where they collected fat checks from the very special interest groups they claim they want to put out of business. Cost of admission: $1,000 a person.

Republicans did the same thing when they took over control of Congress in 1995.

David Donnelly, an ethics reform advocate with Public Action Campaign Fund, calls Democratic policy of talk reform during the day and take special interest money at night a hypocritical action at best.

“It sends a very mixed message to be on the one hand saying they’re clamping down on lobbyists, but then raising money from those very same lobbyists that they say are pat of the problem,” Donnelly says.

The House action bans members from taking any gifts, meals or trips from lobbyists but those same members can still take money for campaign purposes, take trips and call them “political” or find other ways to live large at someone else’s expense.

Paul Miller, president of The American League of Lobbyists, doesn’t like the Democrats’ hypocrisy.

“If you want to bash me in the press, bash me in the press, but don’t call me the next day and ask for money,” Miller told Lisa Meyers of NBC News.

A spokesman for Pelosi said “only about 200 lobbyists” attended the Democratic event Thursday night (which means the Dems raised $200,000) and that the new speaker would still preside over “the most open, honest Congress ever.”

Maybe so but even some Democrats are questioning whether or not Pelosi is living up to her promises.

Writing in The Washington Post, Greg Craig, a D.C. lawyer who worked in the Clinton administration, says he doesn’t see that much change:

Forgive the early criticism, Speaker Pelosi, but if you were serious about introducing and fostering a new atmosphere of bipartisanship in Washington, you might have waited a decent interval before shoving legislation down the throats of the minority party. You might have been more willing to give Republicans warning about what they would be voting on, and you might even have been willing to consult with them about the substance of those bills. Much of the country agreed with the Democrats’ criticism of the highhanded way the Republicans ran the House, and much of the country voted for Democratic candidates in the hope that Democrats would make the legislative process fair and transparent.

Your plan to force members to vote with no opportunity to offer amendments is inconsistent with what Democrats said they would do and what American voters hoped they would do. This is a blindness that will come back to haunt you.

Meanwhile, the Senate is getting into the ethics act as well.

Reports Jim Abrahams of The Associated Press:

On the heels of new ethics rules adopted this week in the House, Senate Democrats mapped plans Friday for changing federal law to address the ethical lapses of lawmakers and their ties with lobbyists that helped bring the downfall of Republicans in the November elections.

Their starting point doesn’t include the House’s newly passed prohibition on lawmakers’ use of corporate jets. But Senate leaders said they expect an effort to add that ban to the package during a debate on amendments of up to two weeks opening Monday.

As a starting point for their first debate of the 110th Congress, Senate Democrats will use a bill co-sponsored by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and identical to legislation that the Senate passed last March. It faltered later because of differences with the GOP-led House, which insisted on a provision that would have limited contributions to independent political groups known as 527s that in the past have tended to favor Democrats.

New Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said last year’s bill would have provided “the most significant reform since Watergate in lobbying and ethics.”

“We will improve that legislation,” the Nevada Democrat said this week, an acknowledgment of several senators’ desire to go far beyond last year’s bill and the House rules in restricting what lawmakers can accept from lobbyists and others outside the Congress.