The Doughnut Dilemma

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Here's what happens on Capitol Hill when you change the rules but not the game: a bunch of lobbyists and their legal advisors get together to hammer out a policy on tuna sandwiches. As new lobbying regulations go in to effect cutting into the lavish dinners and other events lobbyists had previously held to woo members of Congress, they're putting their heads together to find all the loopholes.

Now, these lobbyists can still give campaign contributions and play the big money game, they've been reduced to parsing the protein content of meals they provide for lawmakers to judge whether they fit the restrictions of the new legislation:

 

Bread, which is really a snack and not a meal, is ethical to serve a congressman. Protein--because of its suggestion of "main course"--is problematic. "It's going to have to be rolls and doughnuts," Gross mused. "You can't serve eggs. ... Once you put tuna fish on the bagel, it becomes a sandwich."

The article is full of this kind of absurdity -- including some clever talking points bingo by a few quoted lobbyists who pin the regulations to scenes of starving children and lawmakers "forced" to exist in Washington, DC on the paltry salary of $125,000 without access to free lobbyist-funded dinners.

As illuminating as it may be to discuss the difference between a hot dog and a doughnut what we really need is substantive debate on campaign contributions and the larger problem of granting access to well-heeled lobbyists at the expense of ordinary voters. Merely limiting the ways in which money can be spent, without eliminating the need to in some form "purchase" influence is an exercise in futility.

Meanwhile, it sounds like lobby shops are going to be sitting on a surplus of yummy but ethically problematic nibbles -- feel free to send 'em this-a-way.