Credible Reform or the Incredible Odor

By Eagleton, Thomas | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), May 22, 1994 | Go to article overview

Credible Reform or the Incredible Odor


Eagleton, Thomas, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


The public hates politicians with an intensity never experienced in the history of the country. The blamed endure the bombast of electronic media bomb throwers with the net effect that the American system of government sinks deeper into a sea of cynicism and disrespect. As the confidence of the people declines, so, too, does the ability of government to function.

To begin to restore public confidence, the Senate has ventured to do away with most freebies surrounding Capitol Hill life. A host of perks will be banned: free meals, free golf outings, football tickets, opera tickets, a bottle of Chardonney at Christmas.

If a senator gets a free basket of perishable fruit, he can act "ethically" by quickly putting it in a taxi and sending it to a charity before it spoils. Or he can divvy up the fruit among people working in his office building - one orange a person. Peanuts may be divided by the handful or in cellophane packets approximately a quarter of a pound. Although a gift of a bottle of wine is prohibited, a small 2 oz. bottle (airport size) or an alcoholic beverage is a permissible gift not to exceed one per week. A birthday cake purchased at a supermarket is ethical, but a birthday cake purchased at a bakery with customized lettering is unethical.

Sens. Bennett Johnston, a Louisiana Democrat, and Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, didn't like the proposed limitations. Johnston complained that he, for example, might never be able to go to another charity opera ball. It was pointed out that he most certainly could - all he had to do was buy a ticket.

The no-freebie bill is the Spring Training exercise for the central issue of political reform: campaign finance. The Senate and the House have passed substantially differing versions of campaign-spending reform and the leaders of both bodies are trying to work out a compromise.

Two issues continue to thwart a compromise: the influence of political action committees (PACs) and the use of public revenue in political campaigns. House members worship PACs. In many instances, an incumbent House member raises half or more of his or her funds from PACs. The money comes in effortlessly, almost automatically. PAC directors gleefully dump their funds on House incumbents because anywhere from 90 percent to 98 percent of House incumbents seeking re-election are in fact re-elected.

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