Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Honest Leadership & Open Government?

So the Democratic leadership has posted its "aggressive" Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. I'm underwhelmed.

You can read the complete plan for yourself; I want to respond briefly to each provision. Maybe some answers will be forthcoming at 2:00 p.m. when the event takes place at the Library of Congress. I hope.

1) Close the revolving door between the Congress and lobbying firms by doubling (from one year to two) the cooling-off period.

This is totally arbitrary to begin with. Why two years? Why not 3? How about 5? Be bold.

2) Significantly expand the information lobbyists must disclose -- including campaign contributions and client fees.

Who will be policing this? Is every lobbying shop now expected to have a compliance officer on staff?

3) Prohibit the receipt of gifts, including gifts of meals, entertainment and travel, from lobbyists.

You know someone is going to find the loophole on this one you can drive a Mack truck through.

4) Shut Down Pay-to-Play Schemes Like the "K Street Project."

Rahm Emmanuel has a lobbyist as treasurer of his campaign committee. So what is the likelihood that another "K Street Project" won't happen?

5) Requires lawmakers to disclose when they are negotiating private sector jobs.

Let's say this rule was in effect when Billy Tauzin negotiated his sweetheart deal with the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers' Association (PhRMA). So what? Would it have stopped him from accepting the job?

6) Prohibit "Dead of Night" Special Interest Provisions.

Right now, Democrats are still in the minority and the Republicans have been shameless about throwing their weight around (e.g., Senselessbrenner turning out the lights). How will this change anything if Democrats don't retake at least the House this year?

7) Zero Tolerance for Contract Cheaters.

Two words: Bunnatine Greenhouse. Greenhouse was chief of civilian contracting for the Army Corps of Engineers and was demoted after she reported serious contracting fraud and abuse related to the awarding of billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to Halliburton. How will this proposal protect another Bunnatine Greenhouse?

8) End rampant cronyism by requiring that any individual appointed to a position involving public safety possess proven credentials.

Who will be making those decisions? The Office of Personnel Management?

Two items are notably absent from this proposal:

1) Enforcement--The lack of discussion about how these rules would be enforced is deeply disappointing. You can talk about reform and integrity now and forevermore but without enforcement, talk is cheap.

2) Campaign finance reform--The party refused to draw a line in the sand about real reforms for financing campaigns. The Democratic party has the least to lose in doing so: it's already in the minority so there's little risk in raising the issue. And in so doing, the Democrats would have been able to draw real distinctions between their plan and the GOP's. Unfortunately, Big Money in financing elections is like crystal meth to politicians--terribly addicting and difficult to wean away from.

In the end, this plan is neither honest nor open.

UPDATE: Kos says, "I've been saying that Democrats have made a mistake by getting sucked into competing "reform" legislation. The problem with the GOP's culture of corruption isn't that existing law doesn't cover their transgressions. It does. So let's take a page out of the NRA playbook and argue for enforcement of existing law.

And once we clean house of all the criminals currently stinking up the joint, then we can enact laws to further clean up the joint."

I feel vindicated.

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