<p class="MsoNormal">Inside access is the name of the game in Washington lobbying, and an item in the “Heard on the Hill” column in today’s <a href="http://www.rollcall.com/issues/52_16/hoh/14613-1.html">Roll Call</a> (subscription required) shows the lengths some lobbyists are willing to go to to get it. Specifically, Rebecca Cox, a lobbyist for Continental Airlines and the wife of former Congressman (and now SEC Chairman) Christopher Cox (R-Calif.).</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Like all congressional spouses, Rebecca Cox was issued a special pin that gives her access to parts of the Capitol complex normally closed off to the public. She’s still entitled to wear that pin, since her husband resigned his seat during the current session of Congress. </p>
Over the years of my own mucking around in the issue of political influence I've tried a lot of ways of connecting the issue to various constituencies that I thought should have a natural interest in the undue influence of political contributors on their lawmakers. And that strategy has gained lots of adherents to the notion that big money (campaign contributions, lobbying expenditures, etc.) skews national priorities and policies. Environmentalists certainly believe it. So too advocates for less oil dependent energy policies and a host of other issues where big money is lined up against the community interest.
Cynicism is a human-borne disease that is caused by a variety of factors, one of which includes paying close attention to the actions of politicians in crafting laws.
If you were up and awake at 1:41 a.m. Saturday morning and watching the roll call vote in the House of Representatives on C-SPAN, your cynicism levels would no doubt have leaped alarmingly.
In that vote, the House attached a double-edged amendment to an overhaul of the nation’s pension policies. On the one hand, it included a $2.10-an-hour raise in the minimum wage, to be phased in over the next three years – a popular idea with the public, according to recent polls. On the other hand, it slashed the rate on estate taxes for multi-millionaires – an even more popular idea if your net worth exceeds $5 million.
Last week, we learned from the Washington Post that the Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, the wife of Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., the chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, works for a firm, ICG Government, which the paper describes as "a consulting company for technology firms seeking government contracts." The firm itself says,
The essence of what we do is simple: we help people better understand today's government information technology market. To whom we cater is twofold, both to government executives and industry leaders. How we do it is through education — through training seminars, executive forums, consulting, and legislative analysis.
This year has seen a whole sale rejection of campaign contributions provided by certain undesirables to campaign committees. Last December it was Mitchell Wade and Brent Wilkes, in January it was Jack Abramoff, Mike Scanlon, and the various Indian tribes they swindled, and then came Abramoff associates Neil Volz and Tony Rudy. The guilty pleas and investigations into these top donors was the equivalent of a political tsunami forcing congressmen and Senators to donate the dirty money to charity. The past few weeks, however, have brought some different stories about giving back campaign contributions. It isn’t always clear when a campaign should reject a contribution or by what measures it should take to ensure the political safety of said contribution.
The House Republican Leadership--Speaker and Rep. J. Dennis Hastert, Majority Leader and Rep. John Boehner and Rules Committee Chairman and Rep. David Dreier --issued a joint statement promising to implement reforms in the earmark process, "independent of the ongoing lobbying and ethics reform discussions to ensure these new rules apply to all spending and tax measures that will go to the President’s desk this fall." (emphasis in original). The statement also tells us,
The House-passed lobbying and ethics reform bill includes a series of significant reforms meant to bring greater transparency and accountability to the congressional earmarking practice.
And we’re off... The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is advancing its political and business plan for the 2006 elections by firing an opening $10 million salvo of election ads in the districts of more than 30 of their allies in Congress. Allies that they’d like to see safely reelected, whatever the national mood toward Congress. The ads are slated to run in August, with another wave to follow after Labor Day.
This opening salvo – the biggest in the Chamber’s history – is as sure a barometric reading as you’re likely to find this election year that the nation’s business community is growing nervous about a potential shift in the balance of power in Congress.
Lots of activity in Congress about issues that Sunlight cares about.
First, the bill sponsored by Senator Tom Coburn and Senator Barack Obama that would create an online searchable database for government grants and contracts is scheduled for mark-up today. According to CQ Reports, Sen. Tom Coburn said that the bottom line is: "Why shouldn't Americans know where their money is being spent?"
We couldn't agree more. We're particularly excited about this bipartisan legislative initiative because we have had a sneak preview at the grants and contracts database that OMB Watch is preparing to release in the early fall. It's a wow -- an information powerhouse. (Yes, I feel badly about mentioning it here and not giving you a link to it, but I guess it's OK to tease our readers once in a while.) When I saw it, I thought of a hundred ways to find out more about who's getting how much money from government, and for what projects, than I ever thought was possible. OMB Watch's team has done an amazing job in putting it together. They are looking for some citizen beta-testers, so if you're interested let me know and I will pass your name along to them. This database will be live in six weeks or so.
We're delighted that so many sites have been picking up the news of our Popup Politicians' widget. You can find it on Boing Boing and TechCrunch, Open Source News, The Left Coaster and a host of others. A number of excellent suggestions have already been made. Some folks want us to expand us to include state and local politicians, some want to see other information in the profile such as positions on environmental issues, or links to criminal records. Keep your ideas coming on how to improve on it.
let me know if you run into any citizens
I instant messaged my friend JC today, telling him how I'd like to start exploring the citizen responsibilities in opening up government, and he replied, in that William Carlos Williams way that is so popular these days:
ok if i see any ill try to catch but you know its like looking for wild dogs in africa not many left [long pause] though they're a sight to behold when you find them!
But I walked through the main streets of Burlington at lunch, confident that there were sights to behold.