April 26, 2005

Cleaning Up Congress

Very good article from USA Today about how DeLay's little lobbyist-paid trips are only the coughs and hacks of a much, much larger disease:
The new analysis of 5,410 trips in the past five years by about 600 members of the House and Senate was conducted by PoliticalMoneyLine, an online service that provides campaign-finance and lobbying data.

It found that $8.8 million of the travel expenses were paid for by tax-exempt and other groups whose funding sources aren't public. DeLay is under fire in part because one such group, the National Center for Public Policy Research, paid for a trip to Britain in 2000 that may have been at least partly paid for by a lobbyist, which is against House rules.

While ethics rules require lawmakers to try to find out and disclose who is paying for their trips, they often fail to do so, said Larry Noble of the Center for Responsive Politics, an ethics watchdog group. "It has become a 'don't ask, don't tell' system," Noble said.

He said it is curious that the rules don't allow lobbyists to pay for trips but permit their employers to do so. "The fiction is that the same conflict doesn't exist when the lobbyist's employer, a corporation or a trade association, pays for the travel and the lobbyist goes along," Noble said.
Yes, why are the rules structured like that? Look, if DeLay in fact let Abramoff pay for his junkets and trips abroad, then he's guilty of some clear violations here. Case closed. But imagine if some corporation or trade group that employed Abramoff had paid for the junkets instead—technically, that would've been "legal," but that still would've been wrong, and corrupt, and—oh here it comes—bad for America.

So here's the larger point: Yes, I'd like to see DeLay's ethics violations translate into trouble for Tom DeLay. More than that, I'd like to see DeLay's ethics violations translate into trouble for the GOP as a whole, tangled as the party in K Street's long and slithery tentacles. Hey, what can I say, I'm a vicious partisan and I think the Republican majority is doing this country a lot of harm. So shoot me. But even more than that, and perhaps most important of all, I'd like to see a larger conversation take place about the role of money in politics, period.

If all that comes of these DeLay scandals is that the Majority Leader gets ousted, and the Republicans suffer a serious election-day defeat, that will be cool, but won't change much, fundamentally speaking. Democrats certainly aren't above cozying up to lobbyists and trade associations, or voting for corporate whore bills, or basking in the day-to-day corruption that beams down like black light on Congress. (In fact, according to PML, they've taken more privately-financed trips than Republicans since 2000.) So the new motto should be: Better ethics all around, please. And not just that, but better rules, tighter restrictions, real finance reform. Let's have a wider separation of K Street and state. Realistically, it looks like that the GOP will have to be ousted before any of that can ever happen, given that DeLay seems hell-bent on turning the ethics committee into a bunch of impotent partisan lackeys. But even after that's accomplished, let's not lose sight of the ultimate goal here.

UPDATE: Haha, yes, more like this. Watch the little rats scurry away!
-- Brad Plumer 6:41 PM || ||