The Sunday Times editorial eloquently made Sunlight’s point when it comes to the "scandal" of Dennis Hastert’s earmarking for a local highway. It’s the system that’s rotten. Hastert is only one of the latest — and most powerful — to be caught with his hand in the veritable cookie jar. No doubt there are other stories to come along the same lines.
Hastert’s early promises to clean up the system have proved to be nothing but empty rhetoric. Maybe, now that he’s in the ethics spotlight, he’ll be galvanized to action. The Hastert story that Bill Allison broke on his blog — Under the Influence — is the tip of the iceberg. As more stories are developed by bloggers, citizen muckrakers and the mainstream media, the pressure will mount to change the system in significant ways. And the good news is that none of us will be lulled into thinking that things have been improved if Congress moves forward on its current "reform" path.
Earmarking without accountability is a bad practice and allows for a lot of potential (and real) mischief by lawmakers. Earmarking when a lawmaker might have a potential personal benefit is simply unacceptable (there outta’ be a law), but if there was a requirement that lawmakers had to disclose any direct beneficiaries of earmarks, that practice would certainly diminish if not stop entirely.
Sunlight would add, natch, that real, 21st century-style transparency of everything that goes on in Congress would quell the public’s suspicions about who lawmakers’ really work for, or support them. What possible, rational excuse could a lawmaker have for not posting their entire official calendars on their Internet sites? Or what rationale could they offer for not posting all the current required filings on personal financial disclosure, and campaign contributions and expenditures, and the like, in electronic searchable formats on a monthly basis?
There is no excuse. So until lawmakers figure it out, citizen muckrakers will lead the way in investigating them. Not to play "gotcha" but to illustrate how rotten the current system really is. Members of Congress will eventually figure out that things have got to change.