Buying off lawmakers in Washington has become so commonplace, so mundane, so "the thing the kool kidz do" in the nation's capital that few people inside the Beltway see it as anything more than a routine human behavior like, say, breathing air.
Everyday, there seems to be another story about how the presidential race really is just a contest over which celebrity candidate - Hillary, Barack, McCain or Giuliani - has which celebrity donor writing checks to their campaign (just today, the Hill Newspaper reassured us that "Clinton has the support of several of the most prominent Democratic lobbyists" - I'm sure the American people are breathing a sigh of relief, having been very worried about which K Street shakedown artist was padding the Clinton campaign's warchest). At the same time all this is going on, the Establishment makes a pathetically weak effort to pretend that, no, Washington is mostly clean and that corruption is just a minor anomaly (see the New York Times laughable claim today that the recent pow-wow between Big Money, congressional lawmakers of both parties and the White House aimed at gutting post-Enron reforms "was a rare opportunity for leading executives to meet behind closed doors with members of Congress and senior officials" - ya right, because such closed-door corporate-political orgies are so "rare" in Washington).
But every now and then, the jukebox stops playing, the dirty dancing on K Street stops and all goes silent as someone breaks through the noise with a bold move. One of those times is today, as the Politico reports that business lobbyists are panicking over a provision quietly inserted into a U.S. Senate bill that would create "a commission to tally the corporate political donations that the targeted sectors made in the two years before the Republican-controlled Congress passed legislation favorable to those industries." The provision, authored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), would "illustrate in real dollars the connection between deep-pocketed corporate interest groups and friendly legislation." Here are the details:
"The provision is just one of several planks in the quickly passed lobbying reform Senate bill [which] passed on a vote of 96 to 2...A bipartisan commission would be created and charged with tracking the amount of political donations pharmaceutical companies and aligned trade associations made in the two years leading up to passage of a new prescription drug program for seniors, a program that was designed with heavy input from the industry. The commission would make a similar tally of donations from banks, financial services companies, credit card firms and their friendly trade associations in the two-year run-up to passage of new bankruptcy rules favored by the industry. It would do the same calculation for donations from oil, gas, nuclear and coal industries before passage of the 2005 energy bill. Contributions from chamber and other big-business trade groups -- and "any other free trade organization funded primarily by corporate entities" -- made during the 24 months before passage of the free-trade accord with Central America and the Dominican Republic (known as CAFTA) would also be made public."
You would think after 2006's anti-corruption election mandate and after House Democratic leaders' attacks on the "culture of corruption" that passing this simple sunlight provision would be a no-brainer. You would be wrong. Though it's true that House Democratic leaders say they support the overall bill, it is as yet unclear whether they will pass the provision or bend to K Street demands to kill it:
"[The provision] is now coming under intense fire in the House, where vast sections of the legislation are idling in the Judiciary Committee. The House Democratic leadership remains committed to passing legislation. But the struggle illustrates the difficulties the leaders have in keeping their vow to shed some light on the role of lobbyists while also maintaining critical ties to an industry that is a major source of campaign cash. Lobbyists raised more than $22 million for candidates in the 2005-06 election cycle, ranking 12th among all industries, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics...The Sanders section targeting the business community now is drawing corporate lobbyists into the fight...When told of the business community's angst, Sanders said simply: 'Good!'...[A U.S. Chamber of Commerce spokesman] says business lobbyists will try to kill the provision, first by keeping it out of the House measure and then by stripping it in conference."
This provision is, at its core, merely a limited effort at better disclosure. It is the absolute least Congress should do in the aftermath of the Abramoff scandal, and Democrats response to corporate lobbyists' outrage should be the same brush off Sanders delivered.
But if it isn't, and if this provision is ultimately killed in a wild-eyed pursuit of corporate campaign cash, it is safe to say that House Democrats very brazenly lied to the country in their 2006 campaign against the "culture of corruption." If the Steny "K Street Project" Hoyers and Rahm Emanuels are allowed to torpedo language that does nothing more than provide basic information about Washington's pay-to-play culture, then it would mean that Democrats were never serious about even the most minimal efforts to clean up the Beltway. Let's hope that doesn't happen.