ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Culture of Corruption & Lobbying Reform

It seems that the Dems aren't too keen on one aspect of reforming the Culture of Corruption.

From today's Washington Post:

Lawmakers' Lobbying Spouses Avoid Hill Reforms

By John Solomon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 17, 2007; A01

When Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) rose to the Senate floor last summer and passionately argued for keeping the federal estate tax, he left one person with an interest in retaining the tax unmentioned.

The multibillion-dollar life-insurance industry, which was fighting to preserve the tax because life insurers have a lucrative business selling policies and annuities to Americans for estate planning, has employed Dorgan's wife as a lobbyist since 1999.

A few months earlier, Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) had pleaded for restraint as she urged colleagues to avoid overreacting to the news that the Bush administration had let a United Arab Emirates company take over operations at six U.S. ports. At the same time, her husband, Robert J. Dole, a former senator and presidential nominee, was registered to lobby for that company and was advising it on how to save the deal from the political firestorm.

At least half a dozen congressional spouses have jobs as registered lobbyists and several more are connected with lobbying firms, but reining in the practice to prevent potential conflicts or the appearance of them has not been a priority among congressional leaders. Even modest proposals such as banning wives and husbands from lobbying their spouses or using their spouses' floor privileges for lobbying have gone nowhere.

Democrats made ethics reform a major issue in last fall's congressional elections, but the ethics package the House approved earlier this month didn't address the issue and neither did the one proposed by Senate Democrats. Last week, however, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) proposed banning spouses of senators from lobbying any part of the chamber. The lone exception is for spouses who were lobbying at least one year before their husband or wife was elected.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the legislation as soon as today. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) called Vitter and said he would support the proposal with one caveat: It should exempt spouses who are already lobbyists.

"As long as it is not retroactive, Senator Reid supports efforts to ban spouses of sitting members from lobbying in the future," spokesman Jim Manley said. Vitter said he will not support Reid's proposal. "I think this goes to one of the fundamental issues in this whole debate and that is officeholders using their office to increase their personal and family income. It doesn't get any more basic than that," Vitter said.

Massie Ritsch of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that studies political donations and ethics in Washington, said that if senators decide that a lobbying ban is necessary, it makes no sense to exempt current spouses.

"If there is a problem here, it is that family members can get access to lawmakers that other people don't. And if they exempt the current spouses, then they are making it all the more exclusive. Those family members will seem all the more special."

Vitter's legislation does not apply to the House. It also does not address lawmakers' siblings and children, another growth area in lobbying. Vitter said he wanted to make the plan broader but was not assured of a vote, so he scaled it back to Senate spouses.

Elected to the Senate in 2004, Vitter took an initial foray into ethics reform more than a year ago, proposing the spousal lobbying ban as well as the end of large tribal donations like those seen in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. But his plans went nowhere when his own party was in charge.

Vitter had garnered scrutiny during the scandal when it was learned that, as a House member in 2002, he had written a letter opposing a casino for an Indian tribe that rivaled Abramoff's clients. Vitter had taken donations from Abramoff's tribal clients but had refunded the money. He said he always has opposed gambling.

With Democrats in control of Congress and promising broad ethics reform, Vitter tried again. Last week the Senate rejected another of his proposals -- one to end the practice of lawmakers hiring relatives and paying them with Senate office, campaign or political action committee money.

Now, the practice of congressional spouses lobbying the congress is terrible and I applaud Vitter for putting his proposal forward. I hope that a similar effort is made in the House. If the GOP doesn't push the Dems on this issue, they'll miss an opportunity to return to power.

But the most important point that I'd like to make regarding lobbying reform is this... If you truly want to reduce the amount of lobbying that is done within Washington, you have to reduce the size and scope of the government. When the government gets into issues which will impact business and the personal lives of individuals throughout the country, people and businesses are obligated to attempt to find an audience for their preferences.

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler