Monday, March 12, 2007

The Wall Street Journal on taxpayer-funded lobbying

An article in this morning's Wall Street reveals that Public-sector lobbyists lavish gifts on congressmen and their staffers.

The article is by John Fund. It's about a different kind of taxpayer-funded lobbying than I've been addressing here--but equally objectionable:

Capitol Hill is in the grips of "March Madness"--and I don't mean the NCAA basketball playoffs. "This is also the month that hundreds of lobbyists annually descend upon Washington seeking grants and special projects in next year's budget. The new Democratic Congress has pledged to cut down on such earmarked spending, but you can't tell from the parade of lobbyists strolling the halls of Congress this month. Perhaps it's because the new Democrats--like their GOP predecessors--appear unwilling to change the culture of corruption that has been built up around earmarks.
What Fund points to as evidence that the culture of corruption is firmly in place is a law I hadn't known about. Evidently, private lobbyists can't give gifts to members of Congress. That's as it should be.

It's astonishing to learn that public lobbyists are exempt from that rule. They can lavish gifts on members of Congress:

In their favor-seeking, all of the lobbyists visiting Capitol Hill are bound by House and Senate ethics rules that cap most individual gifts at $50 per elected official or staffer, with an annual limit of $100 per recipient from any single source. But local governments, public universities and Indian tribes are exempt from the limit, so they are able to shower members and their staffs with such goodies as luxury skybox tickets to basketball games and front-row concert tickets.
He goes on:

Having members or their key aides attend such free events in the company of glad-handing university presidents and local government officials winds up costing taxpayers a pretty penny. Much of the explosive growth in earmarks has been directed to local governments and universities. While they are entertaining members of Congress, you can bet the hosts at such events are making the case for pork-barrel projects that range from a new building on campus to a new bridge. Some of the projects are ludicrous--the infamous "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska comes to mind--but most others have some benefit but simply can't be justified as a federal priority.
Who is watching the store? Will this get covered elsewhere in the national media?

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