Subscribe for 33¢ / day

U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood's message to lobbyists who have raised money for him may be unique, but it will be among many ideas as lawmakers try to distance themselves from tainted lobbyist money in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal.

LaHood, a Peoria Republican, has told 23 lobbyists that he has hired a professional fund-raiser and no longer wants their help in sponsoring fund-raisers for him.

Although LaHood couldn't say for sure how much they raised last year, the total likely exceeded $1 million for his congressional campaign and his exploratory run for the governor's job in Illinois.

Republicans are the ones moving quickly with ethics reform ideas because Abramoff was recognized as a "Republican lobbyist," although some of the firms and clients he worked with also donated money to Democratic campaigns.

So, Republican moves to tighten lobbying restrictions will be portrayed by Democrats as election-year moves to garner votes.

The question is whether any of the moves will really change "politics as usual" in the nation's capital.

Lawmakers' code of ethics already says any person in government service should " not must, but "should" " "Put loyalty to the highest moral principals and to country above loyalty to government persons, party or department." It also says they should, "Never discriminate unfairly by the dispensing of special favors or privileges to anyone." Apparently lobbyists have never counted.

For any changes to be effective, they must hit lawmakers where it hurts - crippling their chances for re-election or denying them pension benefits. Members of Congress now have to be convicted of breaching national security or virtually committing a felony against a person before their pension benefits "may" be affected.

Last week, Republicans trotted out changes they expect the public to praise: Requiring two years instead of one before a former member of Congress or staff can join a lobbying firm; not allowing former members or their spouses who work in lobbying to use the congressional gymnasium. Whoop-te-do! Now that's getting serious.

The problem with most proposed changes coming down the pike will be enforcement. Expecting a member of Congress to seriously sanction another member is akin to asking the fox to guard the hen house.

To that end, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has joined with two fellow Democrats in promoting legislation to create an independent office to enforce rules on members. That sounds like an ideal solution, but we have no faith in any "independent" office in a politically charged capital.

"We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to adopt genuine and far-reaching lobbying reform," Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., told The Associated Press.

What he has unintentionally implied is that this generation of members of Congress hasn't always acted ethically in their dealings with lobbyists. To that we agree.

Congress wants to kill the perception that lobbyists run Washington. We have yet to see tough legislation that would make that happen.

Public financing of congressional campaigns could address that problem. However, the way people are so fed up with the political chicanery in Washington now, we wonder if there would be enough volunteer contributions to even finance campaigns.


Load comments