Why The Ethics Bill Is A Joke (Update: Why Bush Won’t Veto It)

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.

28 thoughts on “Why The Ethics Bill Is A Joke (Update: Why Bush Won’t Veto It)”

  1. These fools just added more nails to their coffin.
    Away with lawyers running this country. They have had their way with us for far too long. On with a new breed of politician. I have no idea as to the make-up of this new breed of politician; I just feel strongly that these lawyers have made a mess of things, while cementing the reputation that far too many lawyers are actually “rats” disguised as humans.
    Any suggestions…

  2. Our elected representatives have a whole lot of something going on here, I think it’s called chutzpah. And who’s to stop them? We clear the ground up there periodically and still the noxious weeds grow and grow.
    Eddie Murphy made a movie awhile back called “The Distinguished Gentleman”, not necessarily his best work but pretty funny and apparently very true to life. How a con man got himself elected to Congress and found out quickly that he’d been toiling as an amateur in his previous life. Washington is where all the professional flim flam artists reside.

  3. I found some other trinkets in the progressive Democratic ethics bill you over looked .
    No campaign contributions unless it is placed in a wheelbarrow in unmarked $20’s.
    No paying for flights unless it is in first class.
    No hiring relatives unless its at VP or higher.
    No pork disclosure, period.
    OK, I made them up. Barely.

  4. Notice that in the final analysis, Congressional members make out very well under the new law, while Congressional staffers and paid consultants lose out, unless those fundraisers are big enough events to include them.

  5. In a previous life, I was a defense contractor who often worked on Plus Ups (earmarks) to the defense appropriations bill. We used some very powerful and expensive lobbists to obtain access to law makers. Never did we pay off a member of congress with a steak dinner or a campaign contribution. The best lures are perfectly legal – jobs in his district. This affords the politicial the opportunity to stand before 1,000 of his constituients and tell them that they will not face layoff.
    Once, I was told to award a subcontract to an overpriced and unqualified supplier in Johnstown, PA. I refused. That is the real corruption.

  6. “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.”
    All part of the Democrats’ plan to streamline the corruption practice. Why woo a congressman with a $40 dinner and then later toss in the $10,000 campgain contribution. Congressmen are busy critters, this way they can maximize their efforts to get bought and toss earmarks in preferred directions.

  7. How much do we pay these mooches?! $150k?
    If they want to go to a “charity” event, let them pay their own way. If any coverage results, at least the impression of “compassion” will be somewhat true.
    I never had a problem with someone buying a congressman a $30 dinner. They simply said they’d “reform” that practice as a ruse…make it look like they’re doing something while they leave the REAL corruption in place.
    How ’bout amending their financial disclosure rules? No more categories like: “Stocks valued between ten dollars and $100 million”. (I exaggerate, but not by much.) Full details of all partnerships, property owned/bought/sold…etc. Privacy? They don’t worry about our privacy in their fishing expeditions cum hearings. Penalty for failure to fully disclose: Automatic censure & $10,000 fine PER INFRACTION.
    Lastly, require that, before every election, newspapers are required to report the local congressman’s most recent net worth compared to what it was when he was first elected. (This one needs more tweaking, but you get my drift.)

  8. The whole concept of this is incorrect.
    If a person is honest the size of the bribe won’t matter he will remain honest and no law will make him more so.
    If the person is dishonest then no amount of laws will make him honest. It will just be a question of the best deal they can get.

  9. “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.”
    “…even more easier…”???

  10. Tuesday Late Morning News & Links

    MA: They’re getting tough on those pesky people who abuse Handicap Parking.
    It’s not like they have other more serious things to be getting tough on…crimes like murder are no big thing down there these days.
    France loves rats. We al…

  11. Dang gummit! I wasted a perfectly good Haiku on the she-biatch. But, what difference does it make, the MSMers won’t let the public (cough, cough) at large know anything at all about ot. If my local Washington, DC journalist in my local paper here in California can report the lying and cheating by the Demos when they tried to steal the vote last week as moving legislation, well, what can anyone expect.

  12. Peter
    You’ve hit the nail on the head with this one. So, that pretty much explains what’s wrong with Congress… at least ONE of the things that’s wrong…

  13. re: Potential veto.
    It may well be correct that the Admin will not want to waste time fighting this one by explicitly vetoing the bill. Still, this seems like an excellent candidate for a pocket veto.
    Just let this POS sit on the President’s desk till its shelf life expires….Make the corrupt legislators pass it again.

  14. As the Influence Peddler informs:
    “To sustain a veto, the President would need to flip about 15 votes in the Senate or about 130-140 in the House. To do that takes some ‘Member outreach,’ and there seems to be no indication that it’s happening.”
    Time to start the “member outreach” or pray that something this intelligent is happening under the radar. Realistically, the crickets say ethics reform is not a priority for either party. Too bad, this is a real opportunity for Republicans to clean up their image. Here is how.
    Pocket veto sounds like a good idea (the MSM will spend half their pixels on explaining the veto, thus President Bush gets only half the hate). With an old fashioned veto, President Bush can get 15 Senators in his sleep, Congress critters may be more difficult. The original Colburn bill must be revived. Hillary’s poodle, Obama, would be placed in a real pickle. He co-sponsored the original bill and would have to explain why he now prefers the watered down reform bill.
    If Stevens retires during Congress’ recess, it’s game on. President Bush can press the issue and act from the perspective that he is serious about “cleaning house.” Hillary’s poodle gets a chance to preen before the camera and re-emphasize that he is a bipartisan Washington outsider candidate for change.

  15. (Thumps drum) Term Limits for Congress!
    While we’re at it, I want consideration of term limiting the congressional staff, the bureaucracy, and the Supreme Court.
    Keemo, we could argue for barring lawyers from being in legislatures on the basis of conflict of interest.

  16. Attack it from the other end. Compel lobbyists to itemize (how much, to whom, when and where) and publicly disclose all expenses they claim as tax deductible. If they don’t disclose it, they can’t deduct it.
    I don’t care what Congress’s own rules are so long as every item they take is known to the world.

  17. LarryD,
    I’m all in favor of term limits for Congress and staff. But, I think that term limiting the Supreme Court would be a mistake. It would require them to be elected, and make them just as beholden to special interests as Congress. We don’t want to screw up the judiciary like that.
    Now, on to the veto. If I were President, I wouldn’t waste political capital vetoing this bill. But, I would make a full court press in the media explaining ezactly how bad this bill is. I might consider a pocket veto though. It doesn’t use any political capital, and gets the job done.
    Jim C

  18. Cap’n Ed wrote:
    … 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.
    Hmmm… To borrow a buzzword so popular with the filthy dems these days, what if the president decided to start executive oversight of the Congress? The congresscritters’ response to THAT would be funny to watch!
    “In other news, the world record for the number of ‘harumphs’ said in one minute was broken by Congressman Lester Twiddle in the wake of President Bush’s announcement that he would conduct oversight of the Congressional lobby system. Congressman Twiddle’s record stood for only five minutes, however, before it was broken by Senator Rufus T. Foghorn.”

  19. “Hmmm… To borrow a buzzword so popular with the filthy dems these days, what if the president decided to start executive oversight of the Congress? The congresscritters’ response to THAT would be funny to watch!”
    Good one! I’d even buy a ticket and bring a lunch!
    Seriously, color me naive but…. I think the majority of us would welcome term limits on our elected officials. My problem is,.. HOW THE HECK DO WE DO IT? I’d sign up in a heartbeat

  20. Now, for some “good news.” According to Drudge, Hastert’s “retiring.” Going home like a wounded animal, if you want my opinion. Tail between his legs.
    And, an example of where the GOP’s gone wrong.
    Bush won’t “veto” this one; because the lunatics in congress are still going after Rove. With “invest-tuh-gations.” My guess is that he just wants to stay out of the line of fire; until January 20, 2009.
    Bush is no longer in the dog house. No GOP candidate will “run against him.” As “popularity” tends to raise all boats.
    Over the long haul, however, congress-critters are gonna descover the “bottom” to the pot they’ve been scraping. And, all because of the Internet.
    Just like you’re welcoming, here, InstaPundit readers, the BIG HOOK, for the PORK BUSTERS still musters the big Kahuna in terms of traffic.
    Abramoff is only one restaurant-two-er, who fell off the choo-choo train.
    The other big change? I’m waiting for people to notice that Fred Thompson IS in the GOP nomination race; and he’s looking to do it through the Internet, and on-the-cheap. FRUGALLY. A word Washingtonians haven’t heard since FDR.
    WIthin the next 50 years? I’m willing to predict a “streamlined” IRS code. And, less pork per bill. More and more transparency.
    Heck, John Murtha’s days are numbered. Ditto, for the Kleagle, Byrd. Expect the changes to be slow, though. Politicians, as a class, are such slow learners.

  21. keemo, You are spot on with your comments on New Blood…It must be done. They and I mean the majority who we elected to represent us, have forgotten where they came from and who put them there. Not to hve investigation upon investigation, but to do the peoples business and that isn’t to ruin the lives of good people. Many years ago, I had an individual give me some thought provoking retorick, “It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and one illadvised remark to ruin one.” I have found this to be true and our elected officials are working overtime to continue this trend. lets clean house, and pass a law on term limits……

  22. Fox’s Unable to Pass Credible Bill to Guard the Henhouse

    Podcast Show NotesĀ 
    The bi-partisan ethics reform bill is pathetic to put it nicely. The bill is earning deserved scorn from the former president of the American League of Lobbyists. (Hat Tip: Captain’s Quarters.) Our ultimate problem is not tha…

  23. 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. …
    I fail to see how this “ethics” bill could make THIS perception any worse.
    Who better to break the law than those who make it? Lawmakers are for sale and everybody knows it. I’ve said if I ever get rich the first thing I’m going to do is buy a couple of politicians. They wont be able to go to the bathroom without checking with me first. Yeah, I know it’s a fantasy, but I like to think about it.

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