How bad is the ethics bill that the Democrats just pushed through Congress? Even lobbyists have started to point out its loopholes to the Washington Post. Under the new rules, Representatives and Senators will no longer be able to accept free meals -- unless the lobbyist also provides money for their re-election at the meal. No, I'm not kidding:
Activists on the reform side of the lobbying debate have been celebrating that Congress finally got around to passing an ethics bill. The question is: Should voters celebrate as well?
Paul A. Miller, a former president of the American League of Lobbyists, thinks the hoorahs should be muted, and he has a point. The legislation bars lobbyists from providing meals and gifts to lawmakers, a provision long sought by the advocates of change as a way to keep well-heeled interests from buying their way into the hearts of decision-makers.
But Miller and others point out that the ban is full of loopholes. The largest of the gaps, Miller said, could end up worsening the public's perception that lawmakers are for sale. ...
"Lobbyists will move lunches and dinners to the campaign side of things," Miller predicts. "They will increasingly get members of Congress for an hour or so to give them a campaign check; that's a better deal for the lobbyists and will also make it more likely for corruption to happen."
We have heard that the new bill keeps lawmakers from accepting free meals from lobbyists, as though a free $40 steak has been the root of all corruption on Capitol Hill, but it doesn't even do that much. There are over 20 exceptions to the food and gift bans in the bill. For instance, lobbyists can still fund trips to "well-attended" events, such as charity golf tournaments and receptions, or events where the lawmaker plays a ceremonial role. They can't give tickets to sporting events, but that changes if the Congressman tosses out the first pitch.
So let's recap. Lobbyists can't buy a meal unless it's part of a fundraiser, which means that the previous $40 steak can be legalized now by providing a $10,000 check to tenderize it. Lawmakers can't accept gifts to sporting events unless the lobbyists can make sure they get all sorts of attention from the crowd, preferably during election season. Lobbyists can't buy a round of golf for a Senator, but that changes if the round of golf comes at a charity function where lots of press usually attend.
Wow -- what a sacrifice our Congress has made for themselves in this ethics bill! No wonder lobbyists object to it. All Congress has done is to increase their prices, not take them off the market. In a way, it makes it even more easier for the richest interests to buy a Congressman and keep the hoi polloi from shopping at the Capitol Hill outlet store.
UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers!
UPDATE II and BUMP: The Influence Peddler looks at the politics of a possible veto. Congressional leadership apparently thinks one will be forthcoming, but I rather doubt it, for a couple of reasons. IP notes the overwhelming majorities in both chambers that passed this wretched bill, and flipping the necessary 14 votes in the Senate would be very, very iffy. Bush will want to use his remaining political capital to veto actual budget bills, considering the spending spree Democrats have been considering.
Also, the executive traditionally doesn't interfere with legislative rulemaking. Bush might not like the ethics reforms in the bill, but they don't apply to the executive, and on a separation-of-powers argument, would be disinclined to interfere with Congress shooting itself in the foot.