Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gift Wrap Lobby Law Reform Shuts Bag of Holiday Goodies

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gift Wrap Lobby Law Reform Shuts Bag of Holiday Goodies

Article excerpt

ON CAPITOL HILL, they're calling this "The Last Christmas."

Each holiday season, lawmakers could anticipate such goodies as wooden barrels full of snacks from RJR Nabisco, bottles of chardonnay wine from the Securities Industry Association and pewter serving plates from the United Transportation Union. As of Jan. 1, those gifts will be banned in the House.

The birthday cakes that retail giant Sears sends to every member of Congress? No more.

The annual trips to the Danny Thompson Open in Sun Valley, Idaho, for three days of golf and a grab-bag of clothing and equipment, in the name of charity? Gone, too.

And, beginning in the new year, those armies of expensive lobbyists who have worked Capitol Hill so quietly for years will have to disclose for whom they work, what they do and how much they're paid. All of this comes in reaction to public anger and disgust.

The House, pushed by reform-minded freshmen, has banned most gifts; the Senate has limited them to $50. Both passed a lobbying disclosure law closing gaping loopholes that evaded change for nearly five decades.

Life is certain to change on Capitol Hill, but how much remains to be seen. Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., a backer of the changes, acknowledges that "tradition dies slowly."

"We'll have the `old drinking buddy' phenomenon. You invite me out for a beer, and that makes us old drinking buddies. Then I can take you out for dinner. Influence peddling is not going to change. Those determined to skirt the rules still will."

Wright Andrews, president of the American League of Lobbyists, said his colleagues were already looking for ways around the new rules. "Those with the biggest bucks will have even more disproportionate influence."

Special interests could simply use their political action committees to schmooze with politicians, calling the expenses "campaign contributions" instead of lobbying expenses. The line between the two already is blurred.

"The world is unfair," Andrews said. "The reality is, any big interest is always going to have more influence than the citizen on the street, because it has the interest, it has the money, it has the sophistication."

Still, lawmakers hope they will have mollified a public outraged by TV clips of senators and House members frolicking with lobbyists on all-expense paid trips to the Caribbean. …

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