Moving Toward The Dark Side

Stanley Greenberg, writing at the Prospect:

[T]here is a new reality that Democrats must deal with if they are to be successful going forward. In their breathtaking incompetence and comprehensive failure in government, Republicans have undermined Americans’ confidence in the ability of government to play a role in solving America’s problems. Democrats will not make sustainable gains unless they are able to restore the public’s confidence in its capacity to act through government.

I, for one, sympathize with the public here.

Back in my idealistic college socialist days, I used to think that the government could intervene to really help people and relieve many of free market capitalism’s inherent inequalities. Then Bush got elected, and my faith in the government to ever do anything but make war and act as an ATM machine for favored corporations went up in smoke. I used to want a government that would provide people with health insurance, give quality public education and help working-class people earn a better living. Nowadays, I’d be happy to have a government that wasn’t intent on destroying the world. Sad but true: I’m a cynical old man at the age of 27.

Is there anything the Democrats can do to restore my faith in government? Well, maybe. They could start by reforming the ridiculous lobbying culture that has so corrupted Congress for the past decade.

Take, for instance, what my main man Russ Feingold wants to do (emphasis on the really good stuff):

*A strong lobbyist gift ban – The Senate bill includes a modification to the Senate Rules to prohibit lobbyists and organizations that employ or retain lobbyists from giving gifts, including free meals and tickets, to members of Congress and their staffs. This provision must not be weakened.

*Restrictions on corporate jet flights – The Senate bill requires Senators to pay the charter rate when flying on corporate jets for personal, campaign, or official purposes. All components of this provision must be retained. The changes to the Federal Election Campaign Act included in the Senate bill, but not the House bill, are essential so that incumbents and challengers in congressional races are treated equally.

*Disclosure of political contributions and bundling by lobbyists – With gifts banned, the Senate bill requires disclosure of the various ways that lobbyists can legally provide financial assistance to elected officials. This includes contributions to campaign committees, lawmaker’s charities or entities designated by a lawmaker, Presidential libraries, inaugural committees, and events to honor or educate elected officials. To make sure the public has a complete picture of the financial ties between legislators and lobbyists, the provision requiring disclosure of participation in fundraising events and of contributions collected or arranged for lawmakers must also be included.

* Revolving door amendments – Current revolving door restrictions have proven ineffective in preventing members of Congress from profiting on their public service and gaining undue lobbying access to their former colleagues. The Senate bill increases the “cooling off period” for members of Congress from one year to two years. (By contrast, the House bill does not change the current cooling off period.) The Senate bill also expands the activities that former members must refrain from during that period. Finally, senior staff are prohibited for one year from making lobbying contacts with the entire house of Congress for which they worked, instead of just the employing office. All three of these components are important to restoring public confidence in Congress and should be included in the conference report.

* Limits on privately funded travel – Following the lead of the House, which significantly changed its travel rules in January, the Senate bill includes provisions designed to ensure that lobbyists and organizations that employ lobbyists do not pay for multi-day trips that the public often sees as boondoggles. The Senate bill permits legitimate educational trips paid for by groups that do not lobby and one day trips to give speeches or attend events related to official business. Elaborate trips were central to the Jack Abramoff scandal, and these new rules must not be weakened in conference.

* Lavish convention parties – The Senate bill contains a rule change that prohibits Senators from attending events held in their honor and paid for by lobbyists or entities that employ or retain lobbyists at the national party conventions. These events have come to symbolize both the excess and the access of some lobbyist-lawmaker relationships. This provision should be included in the conference report.

* Greater transparency in the legislative process – The Senate bill contains a number of provisions to open the legislative process to greater public scrutiny and understanding, including ending the practice of secret Senate holds, making conference reports available on the Internet at least 48 hours before voting on them, providing a 60 vote point of order against conference report items outside the scope of the conference, prohibiting “dead of night” additions to conference reports, and earmark reforms. These provisions must be retained in the final bill.

Very nice. If Congress passed this bill and actually enforced these regulations, Brad would be a much happier camper than he currently is. Feingold is a true straight arrow in American government- he’s one of the very few politicians who routinely votes against giving himself a pay raise– so when I see him pushing an ethics reform package, I trust that it has some real teeth to it.

Which is why, of course, many folks don’t want to see him succeed:

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), the champion of a proposal to extend the cooling-off period during which former lawmakers and staff cannot lobby Congress, wants to be a part of final negations on lobbying reform — but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has told him no.

Feingold’s absence from final negotiations lessens the chance that lawmakers will include the controversial proposal in final reform legislation. Advocates of strict reform say that the makeup of the Senate-House conference committee will do much to determine the final legislative product. […]

Reid is expected to announce which senators will participate in negotiations with the House over lobbying reform in the next few days. But the absence of Feingold from the discussions does not bode well for the so-called “revolving-door ban.”

Feingold has been the most outspoken proponent of the reform, which ethics watchdog groups say is essential to cleaning up what Democrats have dubbed the culture of corruption in Washington. He sponsored an amendment to the reform bill that would have broadened a two-year ban to cover lobbying activities such as directing strategy for influence campaigns.

While the Senate has voted to prohibit former lawmakers from contacting their colleagues for two years, House lawmakers have balked at even that reform.

So it goes.

Note to Democrats: if you want to keep your jobs, give people a reason to reelect you. Disgust with the GOP’s corruption can only last so long; if you don’t fundamentally change how our government operates with regards to lobbying and ethics, you could find yourselves out the door in very short order.


Comments: 8


Most government workers aren’t allowed to accept gifts at all from people whose interests they could further, and when they can accept them can only accept gifts worth no more than 20$ each, and totaling no more than 50$ per year from any one source. Why are there higher standards for even the lowest level employees than for congress members?


The inability of the state to act as anything other than a source of economic rents for narrow elite interests is the strongest similarity between the US post-Carter and virtually all third world countries.

Draw your own conclusions about the future of the US.


I used to tilt strongly GOP, as used to be usual for libertarians. But when I lived in WI and Feingold was in the State Senate, I came to have super enormous respect for him. He intervened for a friend of mine in a non-political, garden variety corruption case at a state university — and she wasn’t even one of his constituents, and in fact was a Republican. He did it simply because he detests corruption and it didn’t give any political advantage.

I worry about an expansive federal govt, and tho I agree we can’t have 46 million Americans uninsured, I truly fret about a single-payer system that creates a govt financial stake in everyone’s personal choices. And the potential for corrupt lobbying there is simply enormous.

Still, even tho I worry about some of Feingold’s too-far-left-for-me policy positions, I was deeply disappointed he took himself out of the ’08 presidential race. He’s a very honest man, worships civil liberties, and I’d have worked my heart out for his campaign.


I’m glad his not running for ’08, we need dedicated and talented people in Congress to clean up the Charlie Foxtrot that the GOP created, which is why I am hoping that Obama doesn’t get the nom.


Mona- I have mixed feelings about national health insurance as well. I think it’s basically an inevitability at this point, but there are legit concerns about how it will give the gov’t more incentive to get involved in peoples’ personal health decisions. Up here in commie Massachusetts, we’re about to implement a system where private insurance still exists, but it’s going to become mandatory for every person in the state to have it, just like it’s mandatory for every driver to have auto insurance. For people whose employers can’t or won’t provide them insurance, the government will kick in $$$ to help them afford it. I think this system has a lot of potential, and we’ll see how it works out 🙂

And yes, Feingold rocks. There are very very few politicians whom I’d describe as “principled.” He’s one of ’em.


Maybe the biggest problem is that Congress is self-regulating. Of course I’m not sure who/what would be a better regulator (democratic elections don’t seem to make much diff, as incumbency seems to indicate permanence) but now, the proverbial foxes are running the henhouse, and most of the rest of the barnyard as well.
The more I hear of Harry Reid, the less I like him. Is it ’cause he’s a Mormon? Could be. He doesn’t seem to be much of a Democrat.
The House seems to be pretty much filled w/ petty grifters. The Senate? Well, they’ve mostly gotten “theirs” before ascending to the Senate, so they aren’t as visibly corrupt. It is, after all, the truly great & harmful corruptions that are the least visible, as opposed to the petty self-enrichment of shitheels like “Duke” Cunningham & William Jefferson Clinton.


Just came in to say – please don’t say Automatic Teller Machine machine.

Smiling Mortician

Repo Man, do you also have a problem with Personal Identification Number numbers?


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