Democratic thinking

Articles on democracy in the independent online media

January 21, 2006

Corrupting Power of Earmarks

Fueled by unprecedented political scandals, both political parties in both the House and Senate have ushered in the year with a debate over lobbying reform. American's cynicism regarding Congress in general has reached new highs. Clearly, Congress must make systemic changes to help restore the public's trust and assure the American people that their elected representatives are here in Washington, DC to represent them and the best interests of the country, not campaign contributors and cronies. If done correctly, lobbying and legislative reforms can help eliminate the culture of waste and pork barreling in Congress.

Lobby disclosure rules must be tightened and enforced, gift rules strengthened, the revolving door slowed, and pay-to-play ended. For many lobbyists, it seems the disclosure forms are little more than an inconvenience. Virtually no information about actual lobbying activities, the particular issue, amendment, or legislation in question; the members contacted; or the lobbying tactics employed, is ever provided. Rules against lobbying former colleagues are routinely skirted, so these rules need to be made tougher and enforcement taken more seriously. Two immediate solutions are to broaden the definition of 'former colleagues' and lengthen the amount of time former members are banned from lobbying.

TCS does support tougher rules regarding gifts from lobbyists, but we don't agree with the ban on privately funded travel for educational trips. There are significant benefits of an educated Congress, and we are concerned that if proposed bans are enacted, taxpayers will be forced to foot the bill for these trips in the future. Increased documentation and disclosure of and limitations on these trips will likely make them less subject to abuse. The details of every educational trip a member takes should be publicly available through a system of real-time, transparent, and accessible disclosure. The source, extent, and full costs of the trips should be documented, and members should pay for spousal travel out of their own pockets and certify that the trips meet all congressional guidelines.

More from The Progress report.

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