Time Is Ripe to Reform Lobbying
The Monitor's View, The Christian Science Monitor
Last November, the world's largest and most foul-smelling flower attracted thousands of visitors to the US Botanic Garden, which lies at the foot of Capitol Hill. It took 14 years for the titan arum to fully reveal its unique, nose-pinching display - not unlike the malodorous lobbying activity of Jack Abramoff.
It could be argued that the misdeeds of Mr. Abramoff - who pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy, mail fraud, and tax evasion - were as singularly spectacular as the titan arum, and thus don't require reform of lobbying practices as a whole.
But as with the flower, the lobbying excesses and illegalities of Abramoff flourished inside a hothouse environment. The money-for- favors atmosphere in Washington needs to be addressed so that future cases like this can't be cultivated.
Court documents show Abramoff bilked his Indian tribe clients of more than $20 million. He paid (through a charity) $50,000 to the wife of a former senior staff member to the powerful House Republican Tom DeLay of Texas. In return, the staff member agreed to perform "a series of official acts."
But the reach of the case is broad, if exceptional. Abramoff, who is cooperating with federal investigators, says he has information that could implicate 60 members of Congress.
And the fact remains that the corrupting relationship between lobbying money and legislative favor is commonplace, practiced by both parties but perfected in a "pay to play" code of business encouraged by Mr. DeLay and other Republican leaders.
In 1999, overall spending on federal lobbying totaled $1.5 billion. In 2004, that jumped to $2.1 billion.
Of course, it's difficult to prove the type of quid pro quo favors exposed in Abramoff's plea deal, but lobbying reform legislation suddenly gaining attention on Capitol Hill can go a long way toward discouraging any incentives that would lead to an exchange. …