Why ethics laws pass about once every 25 years

The long-awaited passage of a House lobbying and ethics overhaul bill on May 24 allowed members to head home to their constituents with bragging rights over the most popular campaign promise in the 2006 elections.

But the Memorial Day recess also allowed friends and foes of the legislation to spend some quality time with it and find its flaws.

One little-covered provision would bar lobbyists-turned-congressional aides from communicating with former clients of their old firm for one year.

Fred Wertheimer, president of ethics reform group Democracy 21, couldn’t help but notice that missing from the provision was language that would apply the same rule to members of Congress.

“If it’s a problem that ought to be solved, then it’s a problem that ought to be solved for members and staff,” Wertheimer said.

Brian Pallasch, president of the American League of Lobbyists, was likewise less than impressed by the section. He said it ignores the fact that lobbyists are often experts in their policy areas.

“That basically makes them unemployable on the Hill,” he complained, noting that former lobbyists are going to be most valuable to congressional offices if they remain in the same subject area.

But do lobbyists (known for their big paychecks) even want to come to Capitol Hill (known for its small paychecks)?
“It’s not always about the money,” Pallasch said. “Some people view this as public service.”

Touché.


Mix, mingle and pay up

The dance card for young Republican professionals is filling up. First, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) tried to woo them with his clever txt msg-speak, dubbing some of his most youthful presidential campaign supporters “YP4McCain.”

Now, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign is unveiling its own version, although that crowd plans to speak in full words.

Young Professionals for Mitt will find out if they like each other at their first official event Thursday — where the invitation says they will “mix and mingle” for $100 and up.

YP4McCain has a similar event on May 23, at the bargain price of $75 per person.

Fortunately, Romney’s group understands the special plight of the underpaid Capitol Hill staffer — a staff ID gets you in for $50.
 


‘Democratic agenda’ absent

The good news for House Democrats was that they received confirmation that somebody is diligently reading their caucus website. Now if they could just get voters or contributors to take a look.

The newly founded Majority Accountability Project, a Republican effort, gleefully declared last week that Democrats’ agenda was as empty as the dead-end link by that name on the caucus website. The link invited visitors to peruse
Democrats’ priorities, but no such list was behind it.

Caucus spokesman Nick Pappas said the criticism was a comforting signal of just how few arrows Republicans have in
their quiver “when all they can do is attack your website.”

“Here’s hoping the Republicans keep up this line of attack for the foreseeable future,” Pappas said.

But that doesn’t mean the Democrats have to make it easy for them. The link has since disappeared.


What if we just want to rock?

Popular music has long had affection for farm interests, going back to 1985, when Bob Dylan helped spearhead the first Farm Aid concert.

That benefit concert has gotten bigger and wonkier, and now the website sports a “2007 Farm Bill Study Guide” for the conscientious music lover with some time to spare.

Maybe that’s why we weren’t surprised to see global aid group Oxfam at a booth at indie rock band Bloc Party’s concert on Sunday. Not only were they there, but concertgoers accepted their pamphlets with an eagerness normally reserved for set lists.

Maybe it was the catchy name: “Fairness in the Fields: A vision for the 2008 Farm Bill.”


Markey imitation

Maybe you thought you could get away from Congress. You figured you could catch a train to New York, buy tickets to the hot new show on Broadway, unwind a bit … until something seemed familiar.

It happened when the lead character in the Tony-nominated show “Curtains,” dressed in a trench coat and fedora, opened his mouth and … reminded you of the Select Committee on Energy Independence?

It’s not just you. David Hyde Pierce, the star of “Curtains” who is widely known as Niles from the long-running TV show “Frasier,” explained to Martha Stewart on her daytime program May 31 that he modeled his highly acclaimed Boston accent in the show after Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who chairs the aforementioned panel.

“He has the most wonderful dialect, so I based it mainly on him,” Pierce told Stewart.

Markey said he and Pierce go way back, having built a friendship over years of working together to encourage research of Alzheimer’s disease. Both Markey and Pierce have lost a parent to Alzheimer’s.

Markey said that he hadn’t realized just how closely Pierce was listening to him over the years, but he is flattered — he thinks.

“He sounds like me, but I don’t know if that is good or bad,” Markey said.

He has yet to go see the show, but Markey said he definitely plans to make the trip to hear his own voice coming from a Broadway stage. Pierce channeled Markey’s slightly-grittier-than-a-Kennedy accent to play Frank Cioffi, a Boston detective on a murder case within a theater company.

And, if you, too, would like to channel Markey, Pierce can tell you how:

“It sort of comes from almost an English accent — you lose your R’s and your A’s get a little bent,” he said.

Aaron Blake contributed to this page.