At a time when the scale of corruption in Congress has risen to obscene heights, the fight to achieve a clean government has heated up–and the good Senator from Wisconsin, Russell Feingold, is admirably spearheading the campaign to usher in a new era.
Feingold, who with John McCain led the fight for passage of campaign finance reform, understands the importance of this fight better than anyone. So, this month, the tough-minded reformer introduced the Lobbying and Ethics Reform Act in the Senate (Martin Meehan has similar legislation pending in the House). Once again, Feingold is doing good service to his nation by pushing into the next frontier of reforming lobbying corruption in Washington.
The bill’s key provisions are designed to reduce the power of special interests by forcing lobbyists to file disclosure reports quarterly instead of twice a year, prohibiting lobbyists from taking trips with members of Congress and their staffs, and requiring former members of Congress and some senior executive branch officials to wait two years after leaving government service before working as a lobbyist. And, as Feingold told The Hill, the bill would prohibit “lobbyists from giving gifts to members” or staff and require “members and campaigns to reimburse the owners of corporate jets at the charter rate when they use those planes for their official or political travel.”
Such a law–and, sadly, in these political times, its chances of passage aren’t great–would arrive just barely in the nick of time. The Center for Public Integrity published a must-read study in April showing that lobbyists have spent almost $13 billion since 1998 seeking to influence federal legislation and federal regulations. “Our report reveals that each year since 1998 the amount spent to influence federal lawmakers is double the amount of money spent to elect them,” the Center’s executive director, Roberta Baskin, pointed out.
Other findings are equally heart-stopping. More than 2,000 lobbyists in Washington had previously held senior government jobs, and in the past six years, “49 out of the 50 top lobbying firms failed to file one or more required forms.” According to other reports that the Center recently put out, some 650 foreign companies are lobbying the federal government on issues important to them, and spent more than an estimated $3 billion to influence decision-making at the federal level in 2004.