THERE'S NOT a lot of suspense about whether Congress will pass lobbying reform this year. But what kind of reform -- cosmetic or real? Some of the initial signals, particularly from the new House majority leader, Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), are not promising. As we've said, any lobbying reform must be accompanied by changes in how the House governs itself; even so, that will not produce a perfect system by any means. But changing the rules also is crucial, and there are right and wrong ways to go about that. Here are right ways on several components under debate:
Meals, entertainment and gifts. The question here is whether to impose an outright ban on lawmakers and their staff accepting gifts, meals and entertainment from lobbyists or to couple existing limits ($50 per gift, $100 from any single source per year) with increased disclosure (reporting all gifts worth more than $20), more honest pricing (no more skybox tickets valued at $49.99) and stronger enforcement.
We can't get too worked up about a lobbyist picking up lunch tabs, as long as that is disclosed. But there's no excuse for taking freebies such as sports tickets. And it's important that the rules crack down on the really valuable benefits that private interests now provide -- events such as convention parties honoring key lawmakers, lobbyist-funded holiday parties or cut-rate use of corporate aircraft. Any plan that doesn't end those real perks of office will have fallen short. The resistance to grounding corporate flight is nothing short of outrageous.
Travel. The issue is whether all private travel should be banned or whether the travel rules should be tightened. We would favor significant tightening over an absolute ban, if that can be feasibly achieved.
The most sensible rule would eliminate travel paid for not only by lobbyists but also by companies and other entities that engage in lobbying activities. But it would permit privately funded travel -- for example, by foundations such as the Aspen Institute -- that isn't paid for, directly or indirectly, by entities that lobby. That rule, combined with detailed disclosure of travel itineraries, expenses, funding and companions, would eliminate abuses without choking off travel that provides a valuable education for lawmakers and their staffers.
Disclosure. More detailed, timely disclosure is critical to the success of any lobbying reform. Under existing rules, lobbyists are required to report hardly any information -- they can explain simply that they lobbied the House on a particular bill or issue -- and do so only twice a year.
They should be required to detail, at least quarterly, information on meals or other gifts; political contributions; fundraisers hosted; contributions to charities controlled or financed by members, or that they solicit; and previous government employment. More important, lobbyists should report what congressional or executive branch offices they contacted, and with whom they spoke.
A key word in the preceding sentence is "executive." As the Jack Abramoff scandal shows, lobbying executive branch departments can be as profitable as lobbying Congress; there is public interest in shining a light on both. As a subset of this category, any reform should require disclosure of donations to presidential libraries. That a sitting president can raise money for his library in undisclosed and unlimited amounts from any source -- corporations, foreign interests, individuals seeking pardons -- is an invitation to scandal.
The most telling disclosure of all would be to require lobbyists to report how much money they raised for those they lobby. Thus far, not surprisingly, no proposal would take that illuminating step.
c 2006 The Washington Post Company
Источник: The Washington Post
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