[Washington Babylon ]Washington, Post-Ethics Reform: Come out and party tonight | Harper's Magazine

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[Washington Babylon]

Washington, Post-Ethics Reform: Come out and party tonight


Just three weeks ago, President Bush signed into law a new bill into law that he said marked progress towards strengthening “ethical standards that govern lobbying activities.” Congress had passed the legislation in question in August, by a 411-8 vote in the House and an 83 to 14 vote in the Senate. The bill “demands unprecedented disclosure of how lobbyists interact with lawmakers,” reported the Wall Street Journal. “Months in the making, the measure has been a major priority following the scandals of the previous, Republican-controlled Congress and represents the most ambitious effort to tighten ethics rules in a decade.”

Yes, a new day had dawned in Washington. Not really, of course. I recently received news of several fundraisers from a GOP source (that’s why only Republican lawmakers are mentioned here; Democrats are certainly holding identical events). Some highlights follow.

On September 14, the very day that Bush signed the bill into law, a number of top lobbyists sent out an invitation for a fundraiser luncheon for Pete Olson, a Texas Republican who is hoping to unseat Democratic Congressman Nick Lampson in next year’s elections. Lampson holds Tom DeLay’s old seat and is considered to be highly vulnerable.

The fundraiser was held at the Independence Avenue townhouse of Williams & Jensen, a top lobbying firm whose clients include a number of big energy and pharmaceutical firms, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The lobbyists hosting the affair included Greg Laughlin, a former congressman, John Runyan, who is a lobbyist for International Paper, and Jeff Munk, who previously helped raise money for DeLay.

Four days after Bush signed the bill, a number of lobbyists for the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America hosted a fundraiser for Senator John Thune of South Dakota at Five Guys on “H” Street in downtown Washington. For $500 per individual, $1,000 per Political Action Committee, or $2,500 per event host, Thune donors were entitled to not only a bit of time with the senator but as many burgers and fries as they could swallow.

On September 27, lobbyists for Patton Boggs hosted a breakfast fundraiser for Congressman Paul Ryan at the firm’s downtown headquarters. The invitation didn’t mention Ryan’s party (GOP) or home state (Wisconsin), but it did include the absolutely vital information that he is the Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee and also holds a seat on the House Ways & Means Committee.

One can understand why the Patton Boggs lobbyists hosting the event would want to be on good terms with Ryan. Consider, for example, Darryl Nirenberg, a former chief of staff to Senator Jesse Helms (“where he was responsible for banking, financial and legal issues”) and later counsel to the 2001 Presidential Inaugural Committee. Now he’s deputy chair of the Patton Boggs Public Policy Department, where he “protects clients’ interests before the U.S. Congress, federal agencies and the White House by focusing on parliamentary procedure and developing legislative strategies,” and specializes in matters such as domestic and international taxation, healthcare, gaming and energy.

And how about tonight? Well, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is hosting an evening fundraiser at its townhouse on New Jersey Avenue for Senator Norm Coleman, the Minnesota Republican. Coleman is pretty much in the tank for the Chamber, last year racking up a 100 percent voting record on the Chamber’s key issues, so one expects that ample thanks will be paid at tonight’s gala.

The money nexus between candidates and lobbyists is as solid as ever. Until it’s broken, Washington will remain a discount store for lobbyists seeking favors from elected officials.

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