January 4, 2006

"It's confirmed everybody's worst fears about lobbyists -- that they double-deal, that they're not aboveboard."

So says John Jonas, a lobbyist, about the Jack Abramoff guilty plea. "That hurts the legitimate practice of the profession." I'd say we ought to be very suspicious of this "profession." If you want to practice it, you should feel a lot of pressure to insure its legitimacy. If our passive trust was a benefit you wanted to enjoy, that's all the more reason we should be suspicious of you.

29 comments:

Mark Daniels said...

I agree with you, Ann. I'd like to see the whole profession done away with altogether. Back when I worked at the State House of Representatives in Columbus, it was clear that lobbyists were an utterly unaccountable portion of the permanent government. Most legislators, forced to be generalists who juggled lots of different topics, were incapable of seeing through the baloney of the various cabals that make up this permanent establishment--lifetime bureaucrats and the lobbyists, in particular.

Other legislators who chaired committees or had seniority tended to develop very cozy relationships with lobbyists, usually ones that were helpful to the lobbyists, whether actual quid pro quos existed or not.

Term limits in Ohio have only made the lobbyists more powerful. There is simply no opportunity for term-limited public officials to sufficiently "get up to speed" to see through all the schemes that cross their desks each day. By the time they develop that ability, they're preparing to take a job with some lobbying firm or trade organization or running for a different office.

If we could get rid of lobbyists, things would be a lot better.

At the very least, as I suggest on my own blog, we need to ban former members of Congress, formere Congressional staffers, and former members of the executive branch from lobbying...for life. They represent the most dangerous of all the lobbyists, whether on Capitol Hill or at State Houses.

Mark Daniels

Dave said...

I went to college in Washington DC and was often struck at how, when one met a lobbyist in a Georgetown bar, all they could do was speak in very narrow terms about their current lobbying project.

They claimed to be experts in the area for which they were lobbying (say for drug companies) but then knew nothing about the industry. Example: I recall speaking with one at a party, and he told me he was a lobbyist for Pfizer.

This was during a time when Pfizer's stock was going up every year, and it split its stock about once every two years. So I said, "Oh, Pfizer's doing well, and they just split their stock." He looked at me as if I responded with "Yeah, I think the Mets will win the World Series as well." He simply had no clue what I was talking about.

Odd to say that one lobbies for an industry, and then know nothing about that industries financial shape.

Eli Blake said...

Well, consider that right now in Washington, lobbyists even write legislation.

And consider what one of those implicated, Congressman Bob Ney is saying. After getting a $150,000 golfing trip to Scotland from Abramoff, he is saying that he 1) didn't realize that there was anything questionable about this and 2) didn't know that Abramoff was operating outside the law.

Now, I know a good bottle of Scotch is expensive, but you'd have to be a career Congressman to not raise some eyebrows about that kind of tab. And since when is it OK to accept a 'gift' worth that kind of money anyway? You can buy a Rolls Royce for $150,000, and if Abramoff had given him one of those, then Ney would be in prison right now. If you believe every word that Ney says, then his constituents should vote him out just for being incredibly stupid. Patrick the Starfish from 'Spongebob Squarepants' is about the only one I've ever seen that is truly that stupid, and he's a cartoon.

Sloanasaurus said...

I worked on Capitol Hill and spoke often with Lobbyists. All of them are normal people trying to get across their point of view. Most Congressmen usually already support the point of view of the various lobbyists and see the lobbyists as allies in helping them achieve legislative goals.

There were always be some greedy and dishonest politicians that are out to make money or increase their power. These politicians would exist with or without lobbyists.

Besides every person in America who gives to a campaign is a lobbyist. When I send $50 to my local congressmen, it is not a blank check to do what ever they want, it s $50 to support what they have said they support. Further when I send $50 to a local PAC, I am doing the same thing. I want the PAC to support legislators that support the PAC's position.

Sloanasaurus said...

As lobbyists go, the environmental lobbyists are the most crooked (and the most hypocritical) in Washington.

The Teachers unions are cose behind. After all they get their money to lobby straight from the government through forced contributions form government paid teachers and then use the money to lobby the government for more money. That has to be corrupt.....

PatCA said...

I agree with the posters who have had experience with lobbyists; mine is the same. The lobbyist who worked for us was always rated in the top 5 in Sacramento because he provided reliable information, and indeed help write legislation, as all of them do, and represented well organized clients. He attended a constant stream of $500 cocktail parties, which seems like whitewashed bribery to me, but pols need money to win races. Many lobbyists tho took short cuts and found willing takers for their buckets of cash. They don't end up with long careers.

I think they need to be regulated just as attorneys are. If you're caught in wrongdoing, you lose your ticket.

The connections to the mob though are something else entirely! Weekly Standard.

Troy said...

Eli... back off Patrick!

Lobbyists are the worms and grubs under the rock. We are going to see a US Atty turn over that rock.

Wade_Garrett said...

This has potential to be as big of a political scandal as Watergate. Hopefully, like Watergate, it will usher in a new era of reform and accountibility; hopefully this time it will stick. I think that Mark is right -- term limits lead to perpetual amateur hour in Congress, which gives the lobbyists more influence because they actually KNOW the industries the Congressmen are supposed to regulate.

As shocked as I am at these events, I must say that it could happen to a nicer group of people. Bob Ney, Tom DeLay, and Conrad Burns are among the legislators who have been implicated. Bob Ney is the Congressman who changed the name of French Fries to Freedom Fries and French Toast to Freedom Toast in the Congressional cafeteria. I hope that, after this incident, they rename American cheese 'Bob Ney.' Tom DeLay is a creep; people I know who work on the hill have suspected him of ethical violations since the early 90's and are amazed its taken this long for indictments to come down. And so on. It couldn't happen to a nicer group of fellows. Coincidentally, they are all famous for being 'family values' advocates. The irony is delicious; the santimony, appalling.

Ricardo said...

This is why campaign finance reform has never gone anywhere. Americans actually like living in a hypocritical world. We endlessly verbalize Christian values, yet we economically encourage the Sodom and Gomorrah world of filth and violence and bribery that swirls around us. The same is true on Capitol Hill. Campaign finance (and gift-giving) and similar regulations are written so they can be both immoral and legal, at the same time. This allows the endless parade of politicians and lobbyists to say that "I have done nothing wrong." And since morality in this area is even more debatable than the "I'll know it when I see it" or "community standards" approaches used concerning pornography, there is the great likelihood that nobody will ever be reproached. Abramoff went so far over the murky line, that his conduct violated even unclear standards of decency, and started transgressing federal and state laws. For every Abramoff, there are thousands of others who are walking back and forth over the line and never getting caught. I guess my real point is that I am surpised that anyone else is surprised by the system we have. We elect politicians who show borderline tendencies to be sleezy, allow them to conduct their business with only the minimal amount of moral guidance, we turn our heads (or even laugh) when they do minor transgressions, and we are then surprised when these people morph into full-scale sleeze. And ultimately, it's the politicians who bear the blame for this. Lobbyists are there because the politicians want them there. Congress could clear out K Street in a nano-second, if it passed the appropriate legislation. But it doesn't want to. When does this behavior rise to the level of an "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore?" Maybe another problem is that it's basically a white collar crime (despite it's far-reaching effects), that isn't visibly killing people. Remember how the Mothers Against Drunk Drivers were able to change the social conscience and laws of America? Isn't that what we need here?

John(classic) said...

I have worked with lobbyists on a number of occasions. Some good, some bad. All have a touch of sleaze (which I also think is true of lawyers, and I am one).

I was struck by the answer when I attended a retirement party for an elderly gentleman who had been a lobbyist for forty years. The question I asked was "What is the biggest change you hae seen in Congress"

His answer was "loss of competence". He explained that when he started generally the legislators on a committee knew something about the specialized subject matter and they had staff that knew even more. One might disagree with what they did, but they wrote legislation that made sense and accomplished its purpose. Now , he said, the only thing the legislators sometimes had was ignorance and a quick briefing of the votes to be had or lost in their district. The staff was more competent than the legislators, but a far cry from the informed subject matter specialists they used to be. Increasingly their only specialty was political ramifications. The result, he said, were incomprehensible and unenforceable laws. He said that had changed the lobbying game. Whereas 40 years ago you would spend time putting together an explanation of why and how some proposal worked, made sense and fit in with the overall scheme, now a presentation based on the politics was better received.

So maybe it is a bit of chicken and egg. Do we have bad lobbyists because we have bad legislators or vice versa?

Anyway the only measure I know of to reduce corruption in government is the firing squad now that we have gone all prissy on the 8th amendment and drawing and quartering.

Mel said...

Anne, what you say is so true!

In this BIPARTISAN scandal, our worsts fears about lobbyists have been revealed. Once again, you do not hesitate to speak the truth.

PatCA said...

Terrence, Ricardo,
I was once like you, horrified that politics was going on in the halls of Congress. I bet this scandal will be even bigger than Watergate--actual crimes, possibly murder, are involved here and not mere coverups. But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Yes, this will usher in a new era of accountability but, human nature being what it is, corruption and greed and stupidity will soon rear their ugly heads again. We will no more abolish corruption in politics than we will homicide in the streets--but despair is a copout. You will find heaven nowhere on this earth.

IMO it's our duty as citizens of a democracy to acknowledge the dark side of human nature and root out its effects wherever possible.

The only system worse than ours is...everything else. The ayatollahs in Iran are jillionaries, Fidel's family lives in (socialist) paradise compared to his proles...I could go on.

Elizabeth said...

It's possible as Sloan says that "Most Congressmen usually already support the point of view of the various lobbyists and see the lobbyists as allies in helping them achieve legislative goals." But it's highly, highly unlikely that Bob Ney had ever even heard of SunCruz gambling operations in Florida, and had any opinion on their operation, until Abramhoff's partner, who along with Abramhoff was seeking to buy SunCruz, fed Ney a speech condemning the operators of SunCruz, to be entered into the Congressional Record. Read the Weekly Standard article on that part of the Abramhoff scandal that Instapundit indirectly linked to earlier this week.

The lobbying culture allowed for this happen, so it's worth looking at that culture to see what should be changed.

Elizabeth said...

Mel,

Just how bipartisan is the scandal? Abramoff hasn't given a dime to any Democrats, and is a longtime, from college, Republican insider. Some of the gambling interests he repped also gave money to some Demos, but that's the extent of the bipartisanship.

Elizabeth said...

Pat, thanks for the link to the Weekly Standard report. I hadn't refreshed my screen when I posted about it without linking.

brylin said...

I don't know how bipartisan the Abramoff matter is, but here is a post noting that Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) is donating almost $19k received from Abramoff to charity.

Does anybody have a list of recipients of Abramoff money?

brylin said...

Sorry, it's here.

tiggeril said...

http://tv.yahoo.com/news/ap/20060103/113632476000.html

Trump says he's not running for governor.

See? The system still works!


*cough*

brylin said...

Here's a top 20 chart of recipients by the Washington Post.

Patrick Kennedy(son of Sen. Ted) is #2 on the list; Patty Murray is #9; Harry Reid is #10; Byron Dorgan is #13; Tom Daschle #14; Dick Gephardt #15.

So 6 of the top 20 are Democrats. One could argue bipartisan. One could also argue predominantly Republican (14 of 20).

SteveR said...

Don't go to sleep thinking this mess will only fall on the other side, you'll wake up disappointed.

MadisonMan said...

Note that the WaPost article tracks cash from Abramoff and his clients. Abramoff himself gave exclusively to Republicans according to the list here

Never posted a link before. Wonder if that worked.

Anyway, of course most donations will go to Republicans -- they're the ones in power. Why give money to someone who can little influence what's put into a bill?

Jeremy said...

Instead of blaming the lobbyist, blame the system that requires them: a behemoth federal government trying feverishly to insert itself into specialized areans where it does not belong and does not have the expertise to legislate competently.

Sloanasaurus said...

"....until Abramhoff's partner, who along with Abramhoff was seeking to buy SunCruz, fed Ney a speech condemning the operators of SunCruz, to be entered into the Congressional Record...."

The problem with this part of the issue is that Reps enter stuff in all the time that can be viewed as self dealing. If you ever watch special orders you can hear congressmen praising small business people in their home districts (and also campaign supporters). Some of it is very blatent. But no one cares because everyone knows that the congressional record is full of bloviating BS.

Thus, I don't think the CR is much of an issue.

The real problem for Ney is the House wireless contract that is associated with an Abramhoff client. Ney has offered some responses and defenses to this accusation, which seem pretty good. We will see how far that goes.

WE NEED TO OPPOSE LOBBYING REFORM. Lobbying reform is just a facade for campaign finance reform and the severe reduction in our civil liberties that democrats want to impose on the middle class. It would be a serious reduction on our civil liberties to take away the right of citizens to lobby Congress. Democrats say they are all for civil liberties, but they are not.

If I work for a computer company and I want Congress to reduce regulations on computer companies, I should have the right to give money to a lobbyist to lobby on my behalf to reduce these regulations. Why are democrats opposed to this? Yet, deomcrats are all upset over spying on Al Qaeda..... its all very confusing to reasonable people.

Jacques Cuze said...

I say let the chips fall where they may. If you can prove that a member of Congress took money or a gift or services that violated some law or rule, let's bring that forward.

I don't think anyone is suggesting that all of the money is dirty. Presumably if everything Jack touched was dirty, he would have been caught long ago.

If Patrick Kennedy violated the law, oust him, jail him.

If Tom Delay did, oust him, and jail him.

Ann, why do you think the Senate ethics committee didn't look into this long ago?

And Ann, in light of the detail that the chief of the DOJ Criminal Division Alice Fisher has strong partisan connections to Tom Delay, and that there is every indication that Delay is linked with Abramoff, do you think that Fisher should recuse herself, or that a special prosecutor should be appointed, or what?
The probe is being overseen by Noel Hillman, a hard-charging career prosecutor who heads the Public Integrity Section and who has a long track record of nailing politicians of all stripes. But politics almost certainly will creep into the equation. Hillman's new boss will soon be Alice Fisher, who is widely respected but also a loyal Republican socially close to DeLay's defense team. The larger question is whether Justice -- run by Bush's buddy Alberto Gonzales -- will aggressively seek evidence that could lead to DeLay or to other Republicans in Congress. "I just don't know that they have the stomach for it," said a lawyer close to the probe. -- Newsweek

Ann, as a lawyer, how would you handle this conflict of interest?

EddieP said...

Lobbyists have a legitimate role to play. Whether they play that role legally and ethically is another question.

They're supposed to be registered and I don't know what their disclosure requirements are but there obviously needs to be more transparency and accountability in a system which awards $150,000 golf trips.

Jon Corzine spent $70,000,000 of his own money to become a $165,000 a year Senator. Was that for altruistic reasons? I don't know, just askin'.

dick said...

Talk to me about Torricelli and Traficante when you are talking about sleaze. They make this bunch look like pikers.

SteveR said...

Quxxo: "I say let the chips fall where they may. If you can prove that a member of Congress took money or a gift or services that violated some law or rule, let's bring that forward."

Today, on this, I agree with you.

Must eliminate evil word verification program.. does not compute..

John(classic) said...

"a loyal Republican socially close to DeLay's defense team"

"Socially close?"

What does that mean?

Went to a dinner with?

Lives near?

Engaged?

Heck in most rural areas all the lawyers are socially close. In Superior, Wisconsin it means they throw rolls at one another across the dinner table. In other coounties they all spend a wild weekend at a lake cabin.

Elizabeth said...

I'm absolutely behind nailing everyone who's dirty, regardless of party. But it's a little early to start spinning this as bipartisan. I'm also opposed to using the Congressional Record as leverage for personal or business deals. If it's common, and considered BS, we still ought to condemn it. The idea of congressmembers spouting whatever script is handed them by a financial supporter is sickening, even if it's a relatively minor, common offense.