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January 25, 2006

On lobbyists and reform, with a side trip into BS Bingo...

There's nothing much scarier than a legislative body all hot, bothered and eager to "reform" something.

These are scary days. Congress is in a lather to reform lobbying laws. House Republicans have a plan. House Democrats have a plan. Senate Republicans have a plan. Senate Democrats have a plan. Non-congressional groups have plans. Hearings are being conducted. Reform! Reform!! REFORM!!!

Of course, there wouldn't be any need for reform if we had a Congress full of honest people. OK, OK -- back to reform.

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois is emerging as the Dems' main spokesperson on reform effort. He said on "Meet The Press" Sunday that he believes that "in terms of moving forward on the ethics legislation is that we've got some low-hanging fruit that we should take care of right away."

A side trip here: Have you ever played B---S--- Bingo? It's a game for those planning meetings with the high-powered consultants and corporate types expounding endlessly on the future. The game card is like a bingo card except that instead of numbers, it has phrases -- "low-hanging fruit," "innovation," "out of the box," "synergy," etc. When you complete a row or column, you're supposed to yell "B---S---!"

The prize, if you're lucky, is getting kicked out of the meeting so you can go get some real work done; if you're unlucky, it's getting fired.

Anyway, back to the low-hanging fruit of ethics/lobbying reform: Sen. Obama specifically mentioned a total ban on gifts from lobbyists to Congresspeople. Good idea.

Others that seem like no-brainers to me include a ban on trips paid for by anyone or any organization. (I would make an exception for fact-finding trips to Minot, N.D., in January.) Otherwise, if the trip is truly in the interest of broadening a Congressperson's understanding of the world, we the taxpayers can afford the tab.

Another good idea is to tell former Congresspeople who have taken up lobbying that they no longer have access to the floor of the Senate of House, or to various members-only gyms and restaurants or whatever.

Sen. Obama did talk about some of the tougher stuff, though thankfully he didn't mention "high-hanging fruit." He said the tough questions "might involve, for example, asking the question, 'Why don't we have free television time for candidates, to reduce the amounts of costs?' My suspicion is that NBC, just like ABC and CBS, wouldn't necessarily be wild about those approaches, but that's the kind of conversation over the long term we're going to have to have."

Works for me. We the people own the airwaves; we could require the networks to provide time for candidates in return for those licenses to mint money. It'd be fun to hear Rupert Murdoch et.al scream about that idea.

Among the organizations checking in on lobbying reform efforts is the lobby for the lobbyists. Yup, there's one of those, too.

The American League of Lobbyists is "The Driving Force for Successful Lobbyists." At the league's website, you can buy "the lobbyist's toolkit," get a list of lobbyists for hire or get "career information" if you're contemplating becoming a lobbyist.

There's also a Q&A on Jack Abramoff and an article entitled "Lobbying: Perception Is Not Reality."

Among other things, it says, "The media built Jack Abramoff up to be a very powerful figure in Washington and unfortunately, as we all learn in Washington, perception tends to become reality."

I knew that, sooner or later, it would be the media's fault.

Posted by jcb at January 25, 2006 04:25 PM


Amusingly said, John, but if we really don't run these cockroaches back into the basement (assuming we can't really mash them), we will be a sad, debased version of a democracy.

Posted by: Vita at January 25, 2006 04:42 PM

Excellent game idea John, but it must go fast. I guess you could get a few games in during a good meeting.

I had the dubious distinction of catching a rep of the lobbyist lobby on C-Span's call-in show, Washington Journal.

It was difficult to watch as callers brought up one inconvenient fact after another, but the guy was a gamer, and kept telling us all that, when it gets down to it, lobbyists are serving all of us, you, him, her, your Aunt Mabel and that guy over there.

By golly, by the end of it he had me convinced that wearing $6000 suits and Italian loafers while wheeling, dealing, wining and dining, and doing whatever it takes to ensure that those with the most cash get the most action is as American as apple pie. And of course it is.

But it's also a cancer on representitive democracy as well, though they'd suggest that it is democracy in action.

Posted by: TID at January 25, 2006 09:49 PM

Watching a lobbyist on a C-span call-in show? Dope, you need a life.

I'd be glad to take you out for a drink or two ...
you could wear a sack over your head to preserve anonymity. I promise not to peek when you lift it to take a sip.

Posted by: jcb at January 25, 2006 11:59 PM