Campaign Funds With a Side of Filet MignonAugust 14, 2007 - by Donny Shaw
The ethics bill that Congress passed just before leaving for recess adds a lot of new restrictions to lobbyist-lawmaker relations. But lobbyists are a shrewd bunch and it didn’t take long for them to identify the loopholes in the bill that they can use to cozy up to Congressmen:
>Lobbying laws are separate from campaign finance laws, and the new ban on meals and gifts applies only to lobbying laws. That means the legislation does not rein in fundraising events, so lobbyists and their clients will still be able to buy food and entertainment for lawmakers at those events.
>Hence the following perversity: Lobbyists will not be able to pick up the check for members of Congress unless they also hand the lawmakers a check to help their reelections.
>"Lobbyists will move lunches and dinners to the campaign side of things," Miller predicts. “They will increasingly get members of Congress for an hour or so to give them a campaign check; that’s a better deal for the lobbyists and will also make it more likely for corruption to happen.”
>Jan W. Baran, the campaign finance expert at the law firm Wiley Rein, finds it hard to imagine that lawmakers can schedule more fundraisers than they already do. But he does think there will continue to be plenty of lobbyist-financed partying thanks to the nearly two dozen exceptions to the meal-and-gift ban.
>Baran said that members of Congress will be able to accept invitations from lobbyists to events that are widely attended, including receptions and charity golf tournaments. Lobbyists will also still be allowed to underwrite visits by lawmakers if they have some official or ceremonial role. Members of Congress generally cannot accept tickets to sporting events from lobbyists. But they can be comped to a baseball game if they throw out the first pitch, to a football game if they toss the opening coin or to a NASCAR race if they wave the checkered flag. That’s nice work if you can get it, and you can bet there’ll be a lot more of it available soon.
As Ed Morrissey of Captain’s Quarter’s points out, this means that Congress has actually increased their prices, not taken themselves them off the market. “In a way, it makes it even more easier for the richest interests to buy a Congressman and keep the hoi polloi from shopping at the Capitol Hill outlet store.” Another significant and disappointing effect of this loophole is that it could lead to lawmakers spending even more time on campaign fundraising and less time actually legislating.