I’m late in posting today because I’ve had to calm down after digesting what the House did and didn’t do yesterday in the name of "ethics and lobbying" reform. Just how stupid do members of Congress think we are? This package of reforms doesn’t pass the straight-faced test, even those provisions that deal with disclosure.
Congress is still living in the last century even though we are ten years into the Age of the Internet. Here’s what I mean: Even after the passage of these "reforms" (I can’t use that word without quotations to indicate what it sham they are) lawmakers still file their financial disclosure forms on travel, gifts and legal expense funds in paper form only; House members and candidates file their campaign finance data with the FEC and Senate and candidates file paper records with the Secretary of Senate, who sends the data to the FEC. The FEC hires inputters to hand-type the computer printouts into computer-readable format. Only official foreign travel by House lawmakers and senior staf reported on line and that’s done in unsearchable ways. No need to rattle on about the other 18th century ways information about what lawmakers is made available. You get the point.
The state of public disclosure in Congress is as primitive. This is no accident. Sure, there’s lots of information out there but most of it is hidden in plain view. Information is not digitized, it’s not searchable and even the new earmark disclosure will not be made available electronically. (To see other inadequacies of this signature "reform" check out Bill Allison’s blog.). And frankly, there is a lot more information that lawmakers should be making public that they aren’t. (More on that another time.)
It’s great to force lobbyists into the electronic filing world (though what kind of reform is it to require them to file quarterly rather than semi-annually when their lobbying work will be over and done with by the time it becomes public?) but what about lawmakers themselves entering the brave no-so-new world? Wouldn’t real reform require them to take some responsibility of making their activities transparent? Who do they meet with and why? What bills to they introduce and is there any relationship to their campaign contributors?
Congress has erected a firewall. It’s time for it to be torn down.
Post script: I note with some dismay that one of the Democrats who voted in favor of this sham "ethics reform" package is Rep. Dan Boren (D. OK) son of well known campaign finance reformer, former Senator David Boren.