He brings you expensive, frivolous presents. He whispers sweet nothings in your ear and writes you long letters sharing his innermost concerns. He is hardworking, attractive, articulate and charming. The perfect partner or so it would seem. Every so often, he gets down on his knees and pledges his devotion to you and all that you hold dear. He is a model of virtue and integrity. He is your congressman.
Now, you discover that he has been cheating on you. For most, this has been a long marriage. You might forgive just one little fling, perhaps two … but not this!
First, you caught him with that Abramoff floozy. Then you discovered there were others dalliances – a defense contractor here, an Indian tribe there.
If truth be known, rarely a day or night went by that he wasn’t partying with lobbyists. Those tarts! You caught him red handed, spending your money on them, giving out favors that were supposed to be yours and yours alone.
What’s a scorned constituent to do? Kiss and make-up?
Can you trust him? The answer is “no!” If you do, you are a chump!
Trust must be earned. He’s promised to clean up his act, but will he? You already know that his words are meaningless.
Lobbying reform is not rocket science. Below is a list of solid reforms gleaned from think tanks, watchdog organizations and other columnists, along with some of my own. Bear in mind, any effort to rein in lobbying activities must be accompanied by reforms to reign in spending.
Unlike the reforms championed by the Democrat and Republican conferences, these would make a real difference. Give your congressman the list and press him (or her) to make it a reality: If your congressman won’t commit, you can be sure he’s cheating on you and has no plans to stop. Find someone who will commit and help that person mount a primary challenge.
- End earmarks, the process of inserting projects that have not gone through the committee process, have not been requested by the president and do not serve the national interest into bills at the last minute, when there is no time for the public to weigh in on the matter.
- Forbid appropriations of any kind from flowing to private entities. This would end programs like the Overseas Private Investment Corporation that pays for the advertising of corporate giants like Dole and McDonalds.
- Make public entities subject to the same lobbying restrictions that are imposed on private entities.
- Ban lobbyists from holding or participating in fund-raisers for lawmakers.
- Require lobbyists to immediately report all money spent on their activities via the Internet.
- Prevent recipients of federal largess from lobbing Congress.
- Cut the membership of the Appropriations Committee in half. Limit their terms to two years of service.
- Cut the size of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee by two-thirds.
- Cut the membership of the Agriculture Committee in half. There are more members of the Agriculture Committee than actual farmers!
- Cut out farm subsidies. Farming is a business. Why should this business be subsidized at the expense of others?
- Cut out all grants.
- Stop subsidizing universities. Institutions of higher learning should be able to operate on tuition payments supplemented by gifts from grateful graduates. If not, something is wrong and the people in charge are not as smart as they think they are.
- Rewrite the 1974 Congressional Budget Act which usurped the president’s ability to impound funds for wasteful projects.
- End baseline budgeting, which artificially inflates the cost of all federal programs each year. This allows special-interest groups to claim programs are being cut, while expenditures are going up.
- Sunset all federal programs so they will have to be examined and justified in order to be extended.
- End the practice of allowing lawmakers to establish fund-raising committees that serve as conduits of money for other colleagues’ re-election campaigns. This perpetuates the “old-boy” network and makes newer members beholden to those in charge. Let every lawmaker raise his or her own funds.
- Enforce the rule that requires those testifying before Congress to disclose any federal funds that flow directly or indirectly to their organizations.
Finally, make lawmakers pay for their own meals. Make it illegal for lawmakers to use corporate jets and skyboxes. When lawmakers start picking up their own tabs, then, and only then, will they remember the folks back home.