Magazine article Risk Management

Those Damn Lobbyists

Magazine article Risk Management

Those Damn Lobbyists

Article excerpt

In the 1870s, the administration of Ulysses S. Grant was riddled with scandals that threatened to bring down his presidency. From Credit Mobilier to Black Friday, the Whiskey Ring to the Belknap impeachment, President Grant experienced firsthand the deleterious impact special interest groups can have on government.

In an effort to escape the increasing pressures of the White House, President Grant would often seek refuge at the nearby Willard Hotel. Over time, however, the President's secret getaway became well-known in Washington. Those with an agenda to advance took their issues directly to the president at the Willard. A frustrated Grant used to refer those who approached him in the lobby of the hotel as "those damn lobbyists."

Grant's words, uttered more than 130 years ago, have reverberated through the halls of Congress ever since, and have never been more relevant than now. In January, super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials as part of a wide-ranging public corruption investigation that may implicate dozens of members of Congress. Abramoff took advantage of a system that welcomed corruption by showering lawmakers with golf trips to Scotland, tickets to sporting events and other illegal offerings in exchange for Congressional support for his clients' projects. Although partisans argue that this scandal is part and parcel of a Republican culture of corruption, the reality is that the tentacles of this scheme extend to the Democrats as well.

While the guilty parties in this case will almost certainly be punished in due time, either by the legal system or the voters, we should remain concerned with the political climate in Washington. Unfortunately, the problem here is not a single unscrupulous character, but rather an environment that permits these abuses of power to occur. Therefore, immediate steps must be taken to alter that environment and restore the public trust in the institutions that are supposed to represent the people.

Many recent editorials have called for comprehensive lobbying reform. These proposals include extending the one-year restriction that prohibits congressional staffers from lobbying their former employers, revoking the floor privileges of former members of Congress and placing firmer controls on nonmonetary contributions by lobbyists. …

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