The third installment in my opinion columns on political reform was published this morning: “Reform: Like shooting fish in a pork barrel.” In the column, I call for a series of lobbying reforms:
To end wasteful pork, Congress has to stop allowing its members to insert last-minute spending projects into pending legislation, with no scrutiny or accountability.
To curb these excesses, Congress has to give its members at least two full days to consider all appropriations bills. All appropriations must be linked directly to the congress member requesting the funding and this member must state the necessary government interest in the appropriation. Recipients of federal largess must provide a public reporting of how the money is spent, who in their organization gets a direct financial benefit from the federal expenditure, and how much they spend on political contributions and registered lobbyists.
Congress also has to reform its internal ethics process and how members interact with lobbyists.
One important step is for Congress to create an independent and bipartisan ethics commission, with real powers to investigate and enforce all ethical violations by members and their staffs. Members of Congress, and their staff, must be banned from receiving anything from registered lobbyists, including political contributions, gifts and meals. We have to stop members of Congress and staff from accepting free travel from any private source. All meetings between members of Congress and their staff must be disclosed and records of their meetings must be made available to the public.
Last, no member of Congress, nor their staff, should be allowed to register as a Washington lobbyist for at least a decade after they leave Congress. No one should be able to use their recent past in Congress to make millions lobbying their former colleagues.
In the column, I reference some material from Senator John McCain’s website. I also reference a Congressional Research Service report on pork and earmarking; that data is summarized in a Febuary 3, 2006 Washington Post story.