Wednesday, January 18, 2006

New Lobbying Reform Rules Not Too Reformy

Hey - according to the Washington Post, there's a huge loophole in the new lobbying reform rules Denny Hastert trotted out yesterday:

Lawmakers are about to bombard the American public with proposals that would crack down on lobbyists. Several prominent plans, including one outlined yesterday by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), would specifically ban meals and privately paid travel for lawmakers.

Or would they?

According to lobbyists and ethics experts, even if Hastert's proposal is enacted, members of Congress and their staffs could still travel the world on an interest group's expense and eat steak on a lobbyist's account at the priciest restaurants in Washington.

The only requirement would be that whenever a lobbyist pays the bill, he or she must also hand the lawmaker a campaign contribution. Then the transaction would be perfectly okay.

"That's a big hole if they don't address campaign finance," said Joel Jankowsky, the lobbying chief of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, one of the capital's largest lobbying outfits.

The plans offered by Republican leaders yesterday would change two of the three areas of law or regulation that govern lobbyists' behavior: the congressional rules that limit gifts to lawmakers and the laws that dictate the amount of disclosure that lobbyists must give the public.

A third major area -- campaign finance laws -- would go untouched, an omission that amounts to a gaping loophole in efforts to distance lobbyists from the people they are paid to influence.

Anything that members of Congress can now do in the pursuit of money for their reelections will still be permitted in the future -- including accepting lobbyist-paid travel and in-town meals -- unless campaign finance laws are altered.

Meet the new lobbying rules - same as the old ones, only the lobbyist would also have to hand the lawmaker a contribution along with paying for the lawmaker's travel, food or booze.

How reformy.

I hope the Dems can do a bit better with the reform rules today.

great commentory
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