Ethics Back on the Agenda: Deja Vu or Genuine Reform?

The 109th Republican leadership’s failure to enact meaningful lobbying and ethics reform played a decisive role in the 2006 general elections. Despite pronunciations by some during the lobbying reform debate that voters would not care about the plague of corruption scandals, both exit polls and the election results showed corruption was the top concern. The DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee), in a post-election memo, observed the direct effect of corruption was the addition of 8 additional Democratic seats in districts tarred by the scandals.

The new Democratic leadership – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid – realize the centrality of lobbying and ethics reform to voters, and both pledged to introduce reform legislation as their first items of business in the 110th Congress.

Understanding the significance of this colossal sea change requires a quick review of recent events. Two years ago, there was no interest in addressing lobbying and ethics abuses except from the most stalwart reformers like Rep. Marty Meehan and Sen. Russell Feingold. And their legislative proposals went nowhere, never getting a hearing.

Then Jack Abramoff hit the Capitol. After his plea bargain in January 2006 threatened to point the finger at members of Congress and staff, the legislative stampede began. Anticipating an intensely negative public reaction, lawmakers advanced proposals that in more cynical times would never have seen the light of day.

But this Katrina-sized “perfect storm

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