March 1, 2007

CULTURE OF CORRUPTION UPDATE:

When the Democratic Congress passed lobbying- and ethics-reform measures last month, it barred lawmakers and their aides from accepting almost all meals from lobbyists. But, as the Wall Street Journal reported [subscription required] recently, hors d’oeuvres—including any food eaten standing up and using a toothpick or one’s fingers—remain kosher. The result, say some observers, has been nothing more consequential than a change in the menu. Out: pasta and steak dinners. In: risotto balls, and blinis with smoked salmon and crème fraiche. Congress feels cleaner already.

Switching from entrees to appetizers isn’t the only way that lobbyists are getting around the new rules. According to another recent report [subscription required], this one in the New York Times, in the last two months lawmakers have invited lobbyists to pay for a California wine-tasting tour, a trip to Disney World, weekend golf tournaments, concerts by the Who and Bob Seeger, and a range of other fun-filled (if golf and Bob Seeger are your bag) outings. The arrangements are legal because the new rules don’t restrict political contributions, meaning lobbyists can still pay to attend a fund-raiser. So rather than paying for the lawmaker directly on these trips, the lobbyist will instead contribute to a political fund-raising committee set up by the lawmaker—which then picks up the tab.

Read the whole thing, and ask yourself if public financing of campaigns — which is presented as the solution — will make any more difference, or just result in cash being handed over . . . on toothpicks.

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