Saturday, September 15, 2007

Government lobbyists ignored in reform bill

Though the lobbyist reform bill signed by President Bush this week is a step forward, as an article in today's Los Angeles Times points out, it leaves a giant loophole.
Though lobbyists for most special interests will no longer be allowed to lavish gifts on lawmakers, the bill excludes lobbyists for government agencies, colleges, and the like:

But a favorite activity for many lawmakers still will be allowed -- accepting free tickets to college sporting events.

Lobbyists for public universities are among those who will remain exempt from a gift ban that will apply to other lobbyists, an incongruity that has drawn criticism. Also exempt are lobbyists for state and local governments and other public agencies.

"Private lobbyists can't buy members [of Congress] a sandwich, but public lobbyists can still lavish meals, sports tickets, and trips on us. It's a huge loophole that this bill ignores," said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

The legislation, lauded by backers as the most sweeping overhaul of ethics rules for Congress since the Watergate era, was passed in response to a spate of scandals that helped Democrats win control of the Congress in last fall's elections.

What is needed, and has always been needed, is a blanket ban on all lobbyists' gifts. Why can't our elected officials realize that accepting even a small gift still gives the appearance of a conflict and that appearance as much as any actual buying of votes is one of the major reasons why the public has so little faith in politicians.

The time has come for Missouri's legislators to consider such a blanket ban, as well as a ban on lobbyists bundling campaign contributions to elected officials from both parties. Lobbyists would still be able to talk to legislators and try to sway their votes, and would still have an advantage due to their greater access and proximity to the legislators, but these moves would go a long way toward restoring faith in government and evening the playing field for those of us who do not have lobbyists.

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