KEEP THE SUNLIGHT...

KEEP THE SUNLIGHT OUT. House Republicans' latest bout of watering down the already-anemic lobbying ethics bill is genuinely funny. As subscription-only Roll Call reports, "Republican leaders have stripped out language forcing lobbyists to provide detailed disclosure of fundraising activities and contacts with lawmakers." What's funny here is that the standard, baseline position of all anti-reformers and defenders of lobbying practices is precisely a devotion to better disclosure -- to "letting the sunlight in" and arming voters with information rather than directly curbing any actual activities of lobbyists or officials. Given the limited degree to which voters actually do avail themselves of the public finance and lobbying data already existing, serious reformers consider that kind of focus on sunlight to be basically a cheap dodge. And yet even that has proved a bridge too far for House Republicans. Some readers may know that I'm generally a skeptic of reform and more than a bit cavalier about political corruption as such (it depends on the ends the corruption serves), and in fact I've argued against one commonly touted reform proposal concerning travel. But more thorough disclosure of lobbyist-lawmaker contacts and fundraising efforts seems like a no-brainer even to me. The establishment of a new ethics enforcement office also seems to have some merits -- and it's a proposal that predictably didn't make it onto the bill and that will now be brought up by Democrats as an amendment destined for defeat on the floor.

Meanwhile, the other provision the was just stripped from the legislation -- the crackdown on 527s that has little to do with lobbying or ethics and everything to do with screwing Democrats by extending the tentacles of an already-dubious campaign finance regime -- can expect a conference committee resurrection in keeping with the noble traditions of modern Republican legislative tactics. As Roll Call puts it, the House leadership "expects that the provision -- which is strongly opposed by most Democrats -- will be added to the package when the bill heads to conference with the Senate." Sweet, sweet reform!

--Sam Rosenfeld

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