Thursday, March 30, 2006

[GOP Corruption]

Crimes and Punishment.

"Casino Jack" Abramoff was sentenced yesterday to six months years in the pokey for part of his misdeeds. And who says crimed doesn't pay? Those were the shortest terms allowed (ironically) by tough-on-crime laws passed by the rabid GOP. There's more time comin', though--yesterday's punishment was for his side-deal actions with casino cruise ships. There's an unresolved murder associated with these crimes, and Jack may whittle down his time some more if he knows anything about it.

It therefore seems like little coincidence that the Senate, in a moment of fiscal chastity, also passed a lobbying bill (by the lopsided tally of 90-8). I don't know that the bill will radically change politics in Washington, but in a take-what-you-can-get mode, it ain't half bad. Among other things, it:
  • Requires advance approval from the ethics committee of any transportation or lodging provided by a private party.
  • Requires senators or staff who travel by private aircraft to file a disclosure report with the Secretary of the Senate identifying the purpose of the trip and the people on board.
  • Requires senators involved in employment negotiations prior to the election of their successors to file a public disclosure statement with the Secretary of the Senate.
  • Bans official contacts between a senator's staff and the senator's spouse or immediate family members registered as lobbyists.
  • Extends from one year to two years the period a member of Congress or a senior executive branch official must wait before lobbying a former place of employment.
  • Bars senators from punishing or rewarding a lobbying firm based on the party affiliations of those they hire (a key K-Street strategy).
  • Allows senators to raise a point of order against earmarks, or special projects, that were not in the original House or Senate version of a bill but later added in the House-Senate conference. Such points of order remove the earmark from the bill unless 60 senators vote to retain it.
  • Ends the practice of secret "holds," whereby senators can single-handedly block action on a bill or nomination without revealing that they are the source of the hold.
The last two items are especially worthwhile. Earmarks have flourished because they hide in the dark spaces of omnibus spending bills. While this bill won't automatically shed light on all earmarks, it gives minority parties the power of the shame--which alone may reduce earmarks substantially.

The "holds" provision comes from our own Ron Wyden (OR-D), and eliminates a practice that is an obvious subversion of the public will. Russ Feingold, bless his heart, was the lone Democrat dissentor, on the grounds that the bill was too weak. In an absolute sense, he's right. But politics rarely get you best-case legislation, and this still has to go to the House, which is the far more corrupt of the two houses. But the timing is perfect, so maybe we'll see some changes.


zemeckis said...

huh? 6 years or monthes? no comprende

Jeff Alworth said...

Whoops! Thanks, I made the correction in the text. And it was actually 5 years and ten months, but I was rounding for ease of phrase--a tactic that has backfired.