The plan unveiled by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) is one such bill, however it leaves a gaping loophole that makes the bill essentially worthless. Under this proposal, legislators would not be eligible for private travel or lobbyist funded meals unless the travel or meals were accompanied by a campaign donation. Let me think about this for a second because I somehow fail to see how that's going to curb the problem.
Let's face it, Congress has absolutely no incentive to do anything to curb the problem of lobbyists. Special interest groups are the life-blood of politicians and their political campaigns. To cut access to lobbyists would force politicians to actually take issues to their constituents and raise money themselves rather than taking what amounts to legalized bribes in exchange for votes. The entire system is flawed and the people taking in the cash have no incentive to correct it.
The practice of making campaign donations or providing any other perk in exchange for vote consideration is unethical at best. I call it bribery. Yet, that is precisely how Washington operates on a daily basis. The only acceptable reform to the lobbyist issue is to ban them outright. Legislators should not receive free meals, private travel, or "gifts" under any circumstances. That's called a conflict of interest and it should be illegal.
Think about this for a second. An NCAA Division One athlete on scholarship cannot accept a free meal in his school cafeteria but someone responsible for writing the laws of this country can be wined and dined all over the country in exchange for his vote. Are we serious?
Speaker Hastert said, "We need to reform the rules so that it is clear, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what is ethically acceptable." I'm sorry, congressman, but first you're going to have to find someone in Congress that is qualified to talk about ethics in the first place. I'm hard pressed to find one.
There are more loopholes in the campaign finance bills and in the proposed lobbyist reform bills than you are likely to find in a roll of Velcro™. Make it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt? Not a chance. There's not a politician out there willing to do that. Color me skeptical, but I don't expect to see this issue fixed in my lifetime.
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