What Will Change?

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Time magazine's Massimo Calabresi speculates on the potential lobbying reforms that may come about when Democrats take control of Congress in January. Balancing campaign promises to clean up Washington against a newly favorable environment on the K Street lobbying corridor, what changes will Democrats bring?

 

After twelve years of feeding of K Street's metaphorical scraps, Democrats are now being wined and dined even as House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi promises to make lobbying reform (including gift bans and hiring restrictions) part of her "100 hours" legislative agenda. Calabrisi is quick to note Democrats are not without ethical skeletons in the closet (or proudly on display) and he finds the proposed reforms largely ornamental.

 

His concluding words speak to the real dilemna facing Congress, reformers, and voters:

 

But the biggest obstacle to lobbying reform may be that in an electoral system almost entirely dependent on campaign donations, lawmakers and wealthy interests will always find a way to connect. Members of Congress know their job security depends on the money they raise before each election, and much of that comes from K Street. "The dirty little secret is that the biggest lobby in town is members of Congress lobbying us," says the Livingston Group's Moffett. Moffett says he bumped into a powerful Senator last spring. They sat on a bench overlooking the city and talked about Moffett's clients. After a few minutes, Moffett gave the Senator his card. By the time the lobbyist got back to his office, the Senator's campaign staff had sent him an invitation to a $1,000-a-plate fund raiser. "When you're holding the chum," says Flake, the Arizona Representative seeking reform, "you can't complain about the sharks."

 

Will the next Congress move beyond a ceremonial nod to change and heed voter's call for real action on corruption? It's up to us to keep the pressure on to ensure they do.