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February 4, 2007
The Momentum Of Reform Slows

Nancy Pelosi got a Democratic majority in the midterm elections by promising to clean up Congress, to drain the swamp of corruption in Washington, and especially to disconnect lobbyists from legislation. That reform appears to have been derailed, as the Washington Post explains in an editorial, by Democrats more interested in keeping fundraising from lobbyists than in draining swamps:

DISTURBING, though not particularly surprising, rumblings are emanating from the House of Representatives to the effect that some Democrats are balking at requiring lobbyists to disclose the campaign contributions they arrange or collect for lawmakers.

This important requirement was included in the lobbying and ethics package that recently passed the Senate; Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.) have introduced the same measure in the House and want to see it included in the lobbying legislation that the House plans to take up in the next few months. A similar provision was overwhelmingly approved by the House Judiciary Committee last year but unceremoniously disappeared from the final version of the legislation, which never became law in any event.

The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported last week that some Democratic House members, egged on by K Street lobbyists, are agitating to have the provision removed. That can't be allowed to happen. Mr. Van Hollen, who's responsible for helping to raise big money from K Street and elsewhere as the new head of the House Democrats' campaign arm, nonetheless understands that providing accurate information about the real influence of lobbyists is a critical piece of reform.

Don't get me wrong on this. The Republicans had total control of the levers of power -- or as much as one can get short of 60 votes in the Senate -- and never bothered to implement this change, either. They came to Congress on the reformist impulse twelve years ago, and allowed themselves to get co-opted in the process by the lobbyists and the contributions they raise for incumbents. And at least one Republican leader in Congress, Tom DeLay, aggressively courted that relationship in order to hang onto power.

The Republicans discovered in November that the bill eventually comes due. Apparently, the Democrats intend on learning that lesson the hard way as well. A party cannot run on the reform platform and then adopt the mechanisms of corruption without people noticing. And voters have twice in this generation tossed a party out of power for forgetting their promises once given control of Congress.

It may sound like good news that the Democrats are getting this wrong and setting themselves up for a payback in 2008. However, as an American, I would cheer whichever party manages to dismantle the incumbent protection systems built by past Congresses and the lobbyists that bought them. I would have preferred that the GOP had done it and allowed us to take credit for the accomplishment, but I'd settle for applauding the Democrats for it if necessary. If they don't, the Republicans had better take it seriously when they return to power -- and learn the lesson of their last failure if their opponents do not.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 4, 2007 7:00 AM

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Tracked on February 4, 2007 8:39 AM


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