Despite the Democrats making ethics reform in Congress a major issue, even passing weakened legislation is running into trouble as this NYT story details. [For example, Democrats have already abandoned a promise to double the current one-year lobbying ban when Representatives leave office.] Congresspersons are opposed to requirements that lobbyists disclose bundled contributions from different contributors — a practice that many lobbyists have used to curry political influence.
Perhaps relatedly, the Democrats voted down any censuring against their colleague Rep. John Murtha, who was alleged to have exchanged votes on legislation in exchange for earmarks. [Murtha is alleged to have threatened Republican Rep. Mike Rogers when he exposed one of Murtha’s earmarks. Murtha’s alleged threat was as follows: “I hope you don’t have any earmarks in the defense appropriation bill, because they are gone and you will not get any earmarks now and forever.” The NYT points out that Republicans were just as skilled at using earmarks to discipline those who voted against them or as a reward for party loyalty.
We hope that the Democrats can live up to their promises since ethics reform is an important brick in restoring Americans’ faith in Congress, and this cycle of campaign promises with little follow through (in both political parties) undermines voters’ confidence in government.
A NYT Editorial (“The Hollow Promise Reform Act”, 5/23/07) castigates the Democrats. They note: “For all the promises, the bundling disclosure mandate is in deep trouble as opposition mounts from Blue Dog, Hispanic and black caucus Democrats intent on protecting their re-election campaigns. The pity is that the proposal they are fighting doesn’t even stop this ethically indefensible practice — it merely puts the details on the record. ” The NYT editorial also observes that the smarter moderates among the Dems “better keep their eyes on the people’s agenda, not the lobbyists’ A.T.M.’s. A crucial vote over the lobby bill’s debating rule is about to determine whether reform dies at the hands of greedy incumbents. They might remember that next year’s voters will check for enactment of last year’s promises.”
Not surprisingly, trust in government is only roughly a third of what it was a generation ago, when there were more political moderates interested in finding common ground, less focused on scoring political points, and willing to rank important principles higher than their re-election.