Not Far Enough

Dear Dems,

Your ethics reform package is a nice start, but it doesn’t go far enough. Check it:

Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate, mindful that voters in the midterm election cited corruption as a major concern, say they are moving quickly to finalize a package of changes for consideration as soon as the new Congress convenes in January.

Their initial proposals, laid out earlier this year, would prohibit members from accepting meals, gifts or travel from lobbyists, require lobbyists to disclose all contacts with lawmakers and bar former lawmakers-turned-lobbyists from entering the floor of the chambers or Congressional gymnasiums.

None of the measures would overhaul campaign financing or create an independent ethics watchdog to enforce the rules. Nor would they significantly restrict earmarks, the pet projects lawmakers can anonymously insert into spending bills, which have figured in several recent corruption scandals and attracted criticism from members in both parties. The proposals would require disclosure of the sponsors of some earmarks, but not all.

Oh Jeebus.

Look, guys, the big problem with politicians accepting gifts from lobbyists is that they would inevitably result in more ridiculous earmarks. If you want to run a more honest Congress, instead of one that doles out cash to corporate interests, y’all have to get a handle on earmarks. That means the full disclosure of all earmarks put into a public database for the world to see. I understand we can’t get rid of earmarks completely, but if we could publicly shame some of these guys away from their “Bridge to Nowhere” projects, it’d make me awfully happy.

On the bright side, my man Obama has the right idea:

Senator Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat tapped by party leaders last year to spearhead ethics proposals, said he was pushing for changes with more teeth. “The dynamic is different now,� Mr. Obama said Friday. “We control both chambers now, so it is difficult for us to have an excuse for not doing anything.�

He is pushing to create an independent Congressional ethics commission and advocates broader campaign-finance changes as well. “We need to make sure that those of us who are elected are not dependent on a narrow spectrum of individuals to finance our campaigns,� he said.

Sounds reasonable to me. But senators like Diane Feinstein have other ideas:

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who will oversee any proposal as the incoming chairwoman of the Rules Committee, for example, said she was opposed to an independent Congressional ethics watchdog. “If the law is clear and precise, members will follow it,� she said in an interview.

Uh right. And I’m sure Mark Foley just forgot to read the clear and concise law against asking teen pages if he made them horny.

Other Democratic lawmakers argued that the real ethical problem was the Republicans, not the current ethics rules, and that the election had alleviated the need for additional regulations. “There is an understanding on our side that the Republicans paid a price for a lot of the abuses that evolved,� said Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, alluding to earmarks. Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat and a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, said the scandals of the current Congress were “about the K Street Project for the Republicans,� referring to the party’s initiative to put more Republicans in influential lobbying posts and build closer ties to them.

“That was incestuous from the beginning. We never had anything like that,� Mr. Harkin said of Democrats. “That is what soured the whole thing.�

Except, of course, for the fact that the House Dems just elected a K Street insider as their majority leader.

Y’know, while I’m happy the Dems won, I just don’t trust them to do the right thing on a lot of these ethics issues. Clearly, some outside pressure from grassroots Democrats is required. Seems like a job for, no?


Comments: 22


That’s why I was hoping Rep. Murtha would win…he wasn’t the DLC candidate.

You can never stop watching these folks, the last six years have proven that.


Murtha wasn’t perfect either, though. He is very very prone to dolling out goodies to defense contractors. I still can’t believe the Dems couldn’t find someone with a strong ethical record to be majority leader. Not a goode starte.


The people who benefit the most from lobbyists are the ones who get to make the rules,of course they aren’t going to let go of that gravy train without a fight. About the only thing we can really expect from them is to make some minor changes that don’t amount to squat. Earmarks/Pork are also sold to constituents as a win for them,which is rarely the case. Voters tend to get mad when a politician does this,but not THEIR politician. If you live in,say,FL,it might piss you off when a the folks in WI get those pork projects and lobby bucks,but people usually don’t want to rock the boat closer to home.

I don’t know how you fix that,not the way things stand now. K Street needs to be shut down entirely,but that isn’t going to happen unless pressure from hundreds of thousands of us “common folk” leads to that change. It’s a project that could take literally decades of constant pressure and vigilance on our part.

Paul Wellstone wrote about this in Conscience of a Liberal. In the Senate,they said one thing about cleaning up the system to their home state voters and quite another on the Senate floor and behind closed doors. It was considered an insult to even bring it up.

Alot of this crap is done on the sly,unless you pay close attention to the various bills before the House and Senate,which most people don’t(or can’t,the system is so complex on purpose,it’s intimidating to even try to read and understand any of this,by design),it’s hard for the average American to understand why this is so bad. Even a Tom Delay or Duke Cunningham level scandal is still seen as the exception rather than the rule.

And why the hell are these people allowed to vote for their own pay raises? They work for us,we should have a say in that to some degree. I think their salaries should be decreased and frozen for a decade. Are there any Senators that aren’t millionaires to begin with? It’s not like any of these folks are exactly hurting for money.

The whole thing is a vicious cycle,I don’t know how we can break that,unless the government itself implodes entirely,which wouldn’t be pretty.


The DLC Democrats are Republicans in disguise. Keeping those goobers in charge lets the public say, “Oh, the Republicans and Democrats are all the same.” Hell, get rid of the DINOs and you might see some change in this country.


Are there any Senators that aren’t millionaires to begin with? It’s not like any of these folks are exactly hurting for money.

Joe Lieberman wasn’t a millionaire when he got to the senate – he sure is now. How’d that happen?

Jon Tester isn’t a millionaire – he’s a hand-to-mouth dirt farmer. Wonder how long before he hits his first million?



Would this be a bad time to say “I told you so”? Because if it is, I won’t say it. Seriously, I won’t. I’ll just repeat what I said earlier.

Now that the Democrats have won some power, we all need to put the fear of god into their hearts. We need them to understand that if they don’t return to a more traditional democratic platform and turn away from both business as usual AND Republican-lite platforms, we will do everything in our power to target selected democrats and bring them down.

The problem is that they don’t feel like they answer to us. They feel like they answer to business interests and lobbyists. If we don’t change that, then we’ve won nothing at all.


You really think what drives earmarks is lobbying rather than the desire of legislators to locate stuff in their districts?


If for no other reason, the importance of an independent ethics committee is to keep the GOP in check the next time they hold power.

Dems conveniently forget things like Abscam and the S&L scandal, which helped lead to their loss of the Congressional majority. By far, we’ve had fewer folks convicted, yet the voter attitude persists: they all do it.

I agree, another netroots push is in order to hold their feet to the fire. On earmarks, at the least, folks need to be identifiable as the sponsors, and there should be time limits to prevent last minute injections. I don’t think all earmarks are bad, but I do believe in absolute transparency.

And I think it’s time for public financing of House campaigns, with outside contributions limited for everyone, individuals, corps and orgs. And spending limits. Unfortunately, defining a fair formula for that is incredibly hard as ads vary considerablt in different media markets. But with the Net, ads can be composed so cheaply now that it might mitigate some of that.

Bottom line: don’t let them get away with half-assed ‘reform’.


And I’m sure Mark Foley just forgot to read the clear and concise law against asking teen pages if he made them horny.

See, that’s the problem. There is no statute on the books that specifically prohibits Florida Congresspersons from using instant messaging technology to hit on teen pages. Foley can hardly be blamed for transgressing some vague “sexual predator” and “sexual harassment” laws that do not clearly and directly apply to him.


Jillian is absolutely right. We really need to hold their feet to the fire, (especially the ones who voted for torture), and make them do the people’s work. We need to start lobbying them. And this can be done. Form more citizen lobby groups, more citizen action networks. Go door to door, work the internet, and use that money to pay for our own lobbyists. Believe me, when someone shows up at the state house or at a Congressman’s office with an enormous petition in hand, signed by the actual voters, the pols sit up and pay attention.

Am I dreaming or could we possibly make this happen? I think a lot of people would love to be more active, to feel they have an impact. They just need someone to tell them where to begin.

Oh, noes! Now the Carpenter’s “We’ve only just begun” is going through my head. I guess it’s better than what I had before, which was Bugs Bunny singing, “looking through the knothole, on Grampa’s wooden leg, oh who will wind the clocks when I am gone.” Nah, actually it’s not better….


Couldn’t we start with a rule that says there are x amount of DAYS between when a bill is introduced and when it is voted on? I really hate this process of bringing up a bill and voting on it before anyone has read the thing. This would give ethics groups, bloggers and random google monkeys a chance to search out just who would benefit from this particular legislation.


You really think what drives earmarks is lobbying rather than the desire of legislators to locate stuff in their districts?

Well, it’s both. The whole point of lobbying is to get lots of fun little earmarks that will benefit your business or indurstry though.


Up above, first comment, ifthethunderdontgetya says Murtha would have been a good choice. Wow!

I just came over here from the blog at Common Cause where he is called “ethically challenged”, and where his very recent disparaging remarks about ethics reform (confirmed by 3 sources, I think) are cited. I don’t think there is much question, either, about him being one of the pork overlords in Congress.

I don’t care much for Murtha because he seems short on intellect, but when it comes to leadership that’s much less important that being trustworthy, which should be Test #1 and a marginal rating should be an automatic disqualifier for any key responsibility. ESPECIALLY now.

I have some serious questions about Pelosi, in fact, for putting Murtha out there as her choice.


All of these problems have their root in the cost to run an election campaign. All politicians have to be all about money, all the time, because, as they see it, their job is to get elected. So they’re always on the hunt for money, even if they’re honest, because otherwise in the next election they get booted out of office by the other guy with more money. So until you address this root cause of the problem, the cost of actually BEING a politician, you will never get meaningful reform FROM politicians. Its a problem that will have to be addressed “backwards”. Systemic reform, then ethics reform. Never gonna happen any other way, ’cause the very people who need to do it won’t be willing to….



mikey is, of course, right.

public financing of campaigns is the only way to go.

along with maybe a return of the Fairness Doctrine, hey? Put Faux news and Drudge out of business in one swell foop.


How about a simple rule that all lobbying must be done on camera? Whenever a an elected official meets with a lobbyist, they have to videotape it and put it on a governmental version of youtube. And punish the lobby itself if the rule is broken, not just the congressperson or lobbyist, with a nice hefty fine, say 5 million, plus a temporary, for the first offense, ban on that lobbyist working with congress. The elected official could face censure and a lot of bad noise in their next campaign.
It’s not a perfect solution, because the military industries would, not entirely without cause, not want lobbying involving matters of national security to be in the public domain. On the other hand, if any lobbying industry needs to be reigned in, it’s that one. Maybe a review board of recently active military vets, tho how to pick em would be the question there.


Murtha is one of the old school crooks from back when Tip O’Neill was running Congress. I think Pelosi backed him for majority leader as payback for having the guts to stand up on the House floor and come out against the war, knowing that the right-wing was going to try to swift-boat him. He did a good thing for America then, but he still shouldn’t have been a candidate for majority leader.


How about a simple rule that all lobbying must be done on camera?


And if we added one that all seducing of Congressional Pages had to be done on camera, that would solve that problem pretty quickly too! Or else provide a new source of revenue for the gummint…


“I understand we can’t get rid of earmarks completely”

I’m gonna expose my ignorance of how the Congressional spending system works now: Why not?

From Wikipedia: “[normally] Congress grants a lump sum to an agency to allocate entirely at its discretion, according to the agency’s internal budgeting process. Earmarks tie the hands of agency bureaucrats, obliging them to spend a portion of the budget on special projects chosen by politicians.”

So if there were no earmarking, all the spending allocation would have to be done by the various agencies whose specific job is to decide how to spend that money. What would be so wrong about that? Is it the concern that the individual agencies would come under increased lobbying pressure? Or that politicians would lose an important lever of power?

I’m not playing Devil’s Advocate here – I’m genuinely curious to know what benefits this system brings that outweigh the evident risks of corruption.


I’m in favor of the database (so we know when to vote pernicious pork barons out of office), but if there’s one thing we have learned from all the publicity the Bridge to Nowhere received, it’s got to be that these people are incapable of feeling shame.


I think their salaries should be decreased and frozen for a decade. Are there any Senators that aren’t millionaires to begin with? It’s not like any of these folks are exactly hurting for money.

I’d go the opposite way: pay them more, and forbid any outside sources of income. Our local GOPwit left office a multi-millionaire, and you don’t get that on a congressional salary.

But the problems are really structural. The new crop of House members will be grubbing for campaign funds from the moment they arrive. Public financing is the antidote to that disease. And districts with half a million people can’t be adequately represented — instead, congresscritters do their work through middlemen. Doubling the size of the House — it’s been kept at 435 for one big reason, the size of the chamber — would change the character of federal politics.


Public financing would be an improvement on what we have, but I’m not real enthused about it as a solution to the problem. You immediately would have the issue of who gets the money, and how much. You can’t limit spending without running afoul of 1st Amendment issues. So I don’t think you really get anywhere, at least on a national level (for a small state public financing works well).

The real expense of campaigns is TV and radio, so if we publically subsidized the media, and limited the ability of a campaign to buy up all the airwaves, that would go a long ways to help.

Another solution would be to provide matching funds to candidates, but only up to the level of the best-funded candidate. So if you had three candidates:

Candidate A raises $750,000
Candidate B raises $500,000
Candidate C raises $100,000

Candidate B would get $250,000, and Candidate C gets $100,000.

The beauty of this system is that it encourages lower spending. In the scenario above, Candidate A is doing 50% more fundraising than Candidate B, but doesn’t end up with any more money. So it makes sense for him to spend less time raising money and more time actually campaigning, meeting people, etc.

Meanwhile, a candidate with marginal support, like C, doesn’t get a free ride.


(comments are closed)