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February 10, 2007
Democratic Lobbying Reform: More Middlemen

Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats won their majority in part on the promise to clean up Congress. In particular, they railed against the influence of lobbyists and their ability to curry favor with legislators through free trips and other perks. The new majority passed a slew of new rules that supposedly ended these abuses, but as it turns out, all they did was require more featherbedding:

The 110th Congress opened with the passage of sweeping new rules intended to curb the influence of lobbyists by prohibiting them from treating lawmakers to meals, trips, stadium box seats or the discounted use of private jets.

But it did not take long for lawmakers to find ways to keep having fun while lobbyists pick up the tab.

In just the last two months, lawmakers invited lobbyists to help pay for a catalog of outings: lavish birthday parties in a lawmaker’s honor ($1,000 a lobbyist), martinis and margaritas at Washington restaurants (at least $1,000), a California wine-tasting tour (all donors welcome), hunting and fishing trips (typically $5,000), weekend golf tournaments ($2,500 and up), a Presidents’ Day weekend at Disney World ($5,000), parties in South Beach in Miami ($5,000), concerts by the Who or Bob Seger ($2,500 for two seats), and even Broadway shows like “Mary Poppins” and “The Drowsy Chaperone” (also $2,500 for two).

The lobbyists and their employers typically end up paying for the events, but within the new rules.

Instead of picking up the tab directly, lobbyists pay a political fund-raising committee and, in turn, the committee pays the lawmaker’s way. The prices listed are for lobbyists with political action committees. And the lobbyists usually pay for their own travel and hotel rooms, too.

Lobbyists and fund-raisers say such trips are becoming increasingly popular, partly as a quirky consequence of the new ethics rules. By barring lobbyists from mingling with a lawmaker or his staff for the cost of a steak dinner, the restrictions have stirred new demand for pricier tickets to social fund-raising events. Lobbyists say that the rules might even increase the volume of contributions flowing from K Street, where many lobbying firms have their offices, to Congress.

All the new rules have done is to bar direct payment for such extravagances. It hasn't ended the freebies -- they just have to work harder to launder the money. And that means that we will have an even more difficult time in discovering which lawmaker benefits from which lobbyist at any given time.

Doesn't this sound a lot like campaign finance reform, and doesn't it sound just as effective?

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 10, 2007 3:01 PM

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