Six months ago, Jack Abramoff pled guilty to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion, upon which members of Congress, evincing much faux outrage, lamented the corrupting influence of lobbyist-paid travel, meals, and gifts, and the immorality of earmarking, and issued loud calls for wholesale ethics reform.
It’s now July, and, as the Washington Post recently reported, the “call for lobbying changes is a fading cry.” (Which is another way of saying lawmakers were never interested in reform and have all along assumed the public would lose interest in the subject, allowing them to resume business as usual.)
[Lobbying reform] legislation has slowed to a crawl. Along the way, proposals such as [Speaker Dennis] Hastert’s that would sharply limit commonplace behavior on Capitol Hill have been cast aside. Committee chairmen once predicted the bill would be finished in March, but the Senate did not pass its ethics bill until March 29 and the House passed its version May 3. The House has yet to name negotiators to draft the final package.
Legislators and public-interest group advocates say the most likely result this year is a minimalist package that would allow members to say they have responded to the Abramoff situation and other scandals but would do little to crimp their ability to accept lobbyist favors.
The change, these people say, reflects a calculation that the political storm has mostly passed and that the need for more intrusive efforts to alter the congressional culture and the lobbyist-lawmaker relationship is less urgent.
Of course, how urgent the efforts are is a direct function of how much heat representatives get from the folks back home. In an admirable attempt to gauge the public mood and send a message to Capitol Hill, the Sunlight Foundation has just posted an online poll asking Americans if they think Congress is doing enough to address ethics and lobbying reform. You can do your bit by taking the poll here.