Monday, April 25, 2005

Picking up the tab

Why do I continue to be shocked by this?

About ten years ago, colleagues of mine sat down with a very prominent Democratic Party operative after Bill Clinton had won the 1992 presidential election. My colleagues argued that the public was increasingly cynical about how legislation was bought by the biggest donors. The prominent operative interrupted and said, "If the American public really knew what happened in Washington, they'd come and burn the place down."

From U.S. News and World Report we hear the latest story of corrupt culture in Washington:

Every few years in Washington a new scandal blows up, and it usually involves lobbyists, lawmakers, money--and a well-heeled watering hole. Thus, it comes as small surprise that Jack Abramoff, a GOP superlobbyist now under investigation by a grand jury and two Senate committees, owns a restaurant called Signatures and that some lawmakers were not paying for fundraising events held there--until questioned by the press. Hill staffers say there may be other shenanigans involving lawmakers and lobbyists who frequent the restaurant/bar.

Located on Pennsylvania Avenue between Capitol Hill and the White House, Signatures has hosted more than 60 Republican fundraisers in the past three years--many in a dimly lit back room behind the sushi bar. One fundraiser, in June 2003, was for Illinois Rep. Dennis Hastert.

This month, BusinessWeek Online reported that Hastert failed to pay for the fundraiser until a reporter began asking questions. The tab has since been paid by Hastert's political action committee and filed with the Federal Election Commission. Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, acknowledged that his campaign also failed to pay a Signatures fundraising tab from September 2003. Vitter said he had intended to pay but was never charged.

U.S. News has learned that some congressional staffers have asked lobbyists to leave their credit cards at Signatures so they could eat and drink on their tabs--sometimes even if the lobbyist wasn't there. Such actions could violate congressional ethics rules.

Abramoff also once owned a kosher deli, and he apparently wined and dined his pals at both joints. He'd take you to "the deli if you were not too important," an investigator joked, "and to the steakhouse if you were." (emphasis added)

Top congressional staff make upwards of $100,000 to $150,000, from what I recall. I think these people can afford to buy their own drinks and meals. But the real issue is the constant influence-peddling -- the campaign donations, the junkets, the golf games, the charitable donations, the wining and dining, etc. It's non-stop.


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