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  xThursday, January 16, 2003

wapo: ethics rule changes sux0rz


Yesterday's Washington Post editorial blasted Congressional Republicans for changing eithics rules that'll let lamakers accept--even solicit--bribes donations of food and expense-paid travel:
Over the objections of their own ethics committee chairman, the leadership significantly weakened the "gift ban" that Republicans had adopted with much self-congratulatory fanfare after winning control of the House eight years ago.

Once again lobbyists will be permitted to send catered meals, worth up to $50 per person, to members and staff working late. House leaders suggested that their only concern is for their hardworking young employees; the change will allow "low-paid staff" to "eat pizza ethically." What a relief! But $50 a head can buy a lot of toppings. And unlike a business lunch, which at least has the veneer of offering a chance to exchange information, these corporate meals on wheels are designed for a single purpose: to curry favor. The Post's Juliet Eilperin last year recounted the case of a lobbying firm representing drug companies that sent dinner to the speaker's office as the House worked late on a prescription drug bill; many more such episodes go undisclosed. Some Hill offices have even been known to phone K Street when the hunger pangs hit.

A second change sounds benign but may be even more pernicious, as it restores the ability of lobbyists and lawmakers to cavort together at lavish resorts. This is the kind of practice that led to the adoption of the gift rule in the first place. Members, who in any case still had ample opportunity for subsidized travel, now will be free to accept all-expenses-paid trips to charitable events such as golf and tennis tournaments, so long as the charity pays. Again, the leaders cloak their retreat in piety: Who could be against helping out a worthy cause? But the new exception is so broadly worded that special interests will be free to earmark charitable donations to pay for a member's travel and lodging. The lobbyist can then enjoy both the tax deduction and the pleasure of the lawmaker's company on the links, while the member will know full well who is footing the bill.






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