WASHINGTON - January 18 - The lobbying reform proposals put forward by both Republican and Democratic leaders to curb influence-peddling abuses in Washington appear to get at some of the most obvious and outrageous abuses perpetrated by felon and former super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But they fail to reach the heart of the problem – the influence of special interest money in politics. As such, the two proposals can be characterized only as “reform lite.”
We commend leaders for pledging to ban privately sponsored congressional travel, enact a gift ban and place new restrictions on members of Congress passing through the revolving door. Of course, the devil is in the legislative details, which we will need to see to determine how strong these specific measures will be to limiting lobbyists’ influence.
However, unless Congress breaks the connection between politicians, lobbyists and campaign contributions, there will be no fundamental overhaul of Washington’s system of legalized bribery. In the long run, Congress must ensure that congressional races are publicly financed. Lawmakers can start this year by reforming the presidential public financing system.
Unfortunately, the reform proposals laid out by Republicans and Democrats have two glaring omissions that should be fixed right away. First, neither would prohibit lobbyists from making campaign contributions, arranging fundraisers, bundling contributions from clients or serving on members’ fundraising committees. Second, neither proposes an independent ethics watchdog to audit disclosure reports from lawmakers, staff and lobbyists and to conduct independent investigations of alleged violations. Without a much stronger enforcement mechanism, we fear new loopholes will be found and exploited.