by Max Brantley
No gifts for no reason from any person or thing. That's the only way to keep the lobby sewer flowing into public. (Here in Ark., Will Bond has proposed a constitutional amendment in which legislators would trade off freebies and instant lobying rights for longer terms.) From the Sunday NY Times:
The 110th Congress opened with the passage of sweeping new rules intended to curb the influence of lobbyists by prohibiting them from treating lawmakers to meals, trips, stadium box seats or the discounted use of private jets.
But it did not take long for lawmakers to find ways to keep having fun while lobbyists pick up the tab.
In just the last two months, lawmakers invited lobbyists to help pay for a catalog of outings: lavish birthday parties in a lawmaker’s honor ($1,000 a lobbyist), martinis and margaritas at Washington restaurants (at least $1,000), a California wine-tasting tour (all donors welcome), hunting and fishing trips (typically $5,000), weekend golf tournaments ($2,500 and up), a Presidents’ Day weekend at Disney World ($5,000), parties in South Beach in Miami ($5,000), concerts by the Who or Bob Seger ($2,500 for two seats), and even Broadway shows like “Mary Poppins” and “The Drowsy Chaperone” (also $2,500 for two).
The lobbyists and their employers typically end up paying for the events, but within the new rules.
Instead of picking up the tab directly, lobbyists pay a political fund-raising committee and, in turn, the committee pays the lawmaker’s way. The prices listed are for lobbyists with political action committees. And the lobbyists usually pay for their own travel and hotel rooms, too.
Lobbyists and fund-raisers say such trips are becoming increasingly popular, partly as a quirky consequence of the new ethics rules. By barring lobbyists from mingling with a lawmaker or his staff for the cost of a steak dinner, the restrictions have stirred new demand for pricier tickets to social fund-raising events. Lobbyists say that the rules might even increase the volume of contributions flowing from K Street, where many lobbying firms have their offices, to Congress.
Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, which advocates for tighter campaign finance rules, said that organizing a fund-raising trip was not the same as accepting a free vacation. But she added: “At the end of the day, it is the same thing. Members of Congress are becoming more and more creative in finding ways to engage lobbyists to help pay for their campaigns.”