Wednesday, February 4, 2009

February 3, 2009

     It was dramatic, back during the campaign.  Remember?  "Our leaders have thrown open the doors of Congress and the White House to an army of Washington lobbyists who have turned our government into a game only they can afford to play."  The new guy was going to "clean up both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue" with "the most sweeping reform in history."  Well, hold on a minute.  There's still some dirt on the street.
     Lobbyists couldn't join agencies they'd lobbied for two years, the reformer said.  But he hired William Lynn to work at the Pentagon, and Lynn recently lobbied for Raytheon, a military contractor.  And William Carr, hired at Health and Human Services, lobbied last year as an anti-tobacco advocate.  Former Senator Warren Rudman, a New Hampshire Republican, noted,  "Sometimes you can over-promise.  Often you'll need people with a lot of experience in certain areas."  Good point. Then there's Tom Daschle, former Senate majority leader and never a lobbyist.  But it turns out Daschcle did accept fees and favors for giving advice to companies.  He failed, reports say, to pay taxes on some $ 255,000 over three years, primarily for the use of a car and driver when he was here.  He says that was inadvertent, though that's a lot of money not to have noticed.  He's paid up now.
     To be fair, I should add that when I sometimes covered the Senate years ago, when Daschle was a member, his reputation was squeaky clean.  Some senators, Senator Chris Dodd's father Tom for one, did have financial problems.  Not Daschle.  Still, that was then, and this week's headlines don't read that nicely.
     What do we learn from all this?  That Washington is a clubby place, where lots of politicians have friends in common, know people who know each other, and so on.  Having a staff or colleagues who are totally not part of this is, I think, impossible.  Some conflicts will always exist. We don't know enough yet about the Obama adminstrstion to judge it in this area.
     The old days were simpler.  I remember one day in the House, when the count was going wrong, Democratic leader Lyndon Johnson bellowing at a Republican colleague, "Change your vote.!"  The colleague did.  No money changed hands.  A little clout, maybe a lot, but no cash.

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