Transparency, accountability: lessons reach beyond Wall St.

A recent Zogby poll shows 82 percent of Americans in favor of a ban on campaign contributions from lobbyists or representatives from the financial or national security industries. And with good reason.

Over the past decade, the financial services, insurance and real estate industries contributed $1.6 billion to federal political campaigns. Those same industries spent $2.3 billion on lobbying Washington over the same time period. These billions of dollars acted as bait for some of the lawmakers who voted to deregulate the industry. Many of them now work on K Street, lobbying for the very companies they once freed from the oversight they now seek.

Congress, struck by amnesia, holds pow-wows to find a solution to the crisis with the very same lobbyists who started it.

Most Americans feel like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.” From the savings & loan scandal to this complete meltdown of the American financial industry, what has changed? We’ve been living the same day over and over again because loyalty in Washington is bought with billions of dollars in campaign contributions and lobbying expenses. Politicians refuse to provide the necessary oversight and then, when Humpty Dumpty comes falling down, the American taxpayer is left with the check.

The solution to our crisis in government mirrors the solution to the financial crisis: greater oversight and more transparency. If an executive for Bank of America makes a contribution to the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, that contribution should be made public within 24 hours. If a lobbyist for the Mortgage Bankers Association meets with a congressman, that lobbyist must disclose, within 24 hours, who he or she met with and what bills were discussed.

To prevent massive bills, like the current bailout bill, from passing without any time to be read, all bills should be posted online for 72 hours before a vote.

In that spirit of real-time transparency, the proposals from both Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) have been posted at
PublicMarkup.org. That offers an opportunity for citizens to review and comment on each section of either plan.

By turning on the light and putting the influence game in the public eye, in real time, the lobbyists and lawmakers covertly setting policy will finally have to answer to the public. If the crisis on Wall Street necessitates serious reforms and intrusive oversight, the same should be true for Washington. The shareholders expect no less.

Washington


THE WOMEN’S VOTE

No average lady

From David E. Blockstein

(Regarding article “Nominees battle over female vote,” Sept. 17.) Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild has called Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) an “elitist”? I guess it takes one to know one ...

Takoma Park, Md.

Expectations, memories

From Al Sartor

It is instructive to note that a Lady (de Rothschild) has risen to the defense of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), a woman scorned. Men may tolerate Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) warm romancing of Hillary in the post primaries and then his forsaking of her in cold calculations, but Ladies have more impeccable expectations — along with long memories.

Walnut Creek, Calif.