Monday, January 09, 2006

Mark Schmitt Gets It Right

Mark Schmitt is one of the first political bloggers I started reading a couple of years ago and I'm sorry to say that I don't read him nearly enough. That's nothing to do with him and everything to do with me and my short attention span. Mark does an excellent job of being thorough and to my chagrin, I'm way too often reduced to reading blogs of the "Heh, indeedy" variety just because I don't have the time. But Mark, as usual, says something that is really important that I'll repeat here because we all need to keep repeating it. In his entry titled Please, Don't Say "Lobbying Reform", he writes:

Please don’t reinforce the frame that this is a "lobbying scandal" and the villain a "lobbyist" named Jack Abramoff. That’s the other side’s frame. This is not a lobbying scandal. It’s a betrayal-of-public-trust scandal. Lobbyists have no power, no influence, until a public servant gives them power. That’s what DeLay and the K Street Project was all about. What they did was to set up a system by which lobbyists who proved their loyalty in various ways, such as taking DeLay and Ney on golf trips to Scotland, could be transformed from supplicants to full partners in government.

Abramoff did lots of terrible things and should go to jail, but never forget that every single criminal and unethical act of his was made possible by a public official. On his own, Abramoff had no power. At another time -- say, 1993 -- he would have been a joke.

But every time we say "lobbying reform," we reinforce the idea that it is the lobbyist who is the wrongdoer. Sure, many lobbyists are slimy and aggressive. (Others, in my experience, can be helpful and informative, as long as you understand that they represent only one side of an argument.) But no one forces any legislator or staffer to accept lunches, trips, or favors from a lobbyist. And the reason not to do that is that the legislator risks surrendering some of her power, which is a public trust, to these private interests.

[Emphasis is Mark's] Sorry to quote so much, but I do think that this is important and we need to help make sure that the attention doesn't focus solely on Abramoff and his cronies. Reform is all well and good, but how are more laws or regulations going to help? There are laws on the books today that these people broke repeatedly and brazenly - how are more laws going to fix anything? We need to identify and prosecute those in office (either elected or appointed) that were part of the illegal activity and do it openly and quickly. If Democrats turn out to have been involved, then they have to go down, but so far again there is no evidence of that - hell, if nothing else we haven't had any influence to sell.


At 5:58 AM, Blogger Lex said...

My friend David Allen, whom I think you've met, has said many times that any leglslator who takes a bribe should be hanged in front of the Capitol steps as a traitor. Frankly, I don't think that's nearly as much of a stretch (so to speak) as most constitutional scholars. Taking a bribe might not be attempting "violent overthrow" of the government and might or might not give aid and comfort to our enemies, but it certainly does metaphoric violence, and literal damage, to our system of government.


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