I am a huge supporter of clean, honest government. However, some of the “reforms” that get kicked around after ethical dust-ups are just silly.
In order to demonstrate they are responding to a scandal Members start proposing all kinds of things that – soberly viewed – don’t do very much. Take for example, banning former Members who are lobbyists from the House Floor. It sure sounds good back home but take me as an example. In the 13 years since I retired from the House I have been on the Floor when the House was in session, I think, about three times. Never for lobbying.
You’d have to be an idiot to lobby on the Floor. Members would deeply resent it and you’d be harming, not helping, your client. A more straightforward way to deal with it is to simply pass a rule saying former Members may not lobby on the House Floor. If the rule is violated, just cancel the perpetrator’s Floor privileges …. for life. Don’t horse around.
What is the latest thing to outrage common sense? The revolving door. Here is the basic argument for what is wrong with former Members and staffers going downtown? Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has said:
“The problem is that Members leave and they are immediately trading on their relationships with other Members and bad policy decisions are being made.”
Wrong: Under current law Members can’t do any lobbying “immediately”. The waiting period is one year.
More importantly, does Ms. Sloan really believe that former Members’ lobbying leads directly to “bad decisions being made”? For that matter, does she believe that all lobbyists – the vast majority of whom are not former Members – are responsible for all the “bad decisions”? This is just wallowing in mindless speculation What nonsense.
Here is a fact. There are lobbyists in this town who know more sitting Members than former Members do and they have never served in Congress. Many have better relationships. The revolving door concept applied to Members has always sounded ominous, unfair, not quite cricket. If you think about it carefully in a broad context it is mostly humbug.
While some “reformers” just want to look like they are doing something, most reformers are sincere. However, often they fail to make distinctions between things that intuitively “appear” questionable and those that really are. Too often there is a failure to reach to the bedrock of reality, of how things really work and what is truly a problem. If we do that, we can have cleaner government while ceasing to float silly ideas that sound good but, in fact, don’t do squat