The Big Picture

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Paddy Bauler is a largely forgotten Chicago politician who owns an immortal phrase. "Chicago ain't ready for reform," the 43rd Ward alderman once observed. The statement came 50 years ago, as civic do-gooders were trying to clean up yet another case of political corruption. His words proved prophetic. Scandal continues to haunt the Windy City's political landscape.

Bauler's spirit lives on in Congress, where an alarming number of lawmakers are essentially mouthpieces for their highest bidder. We're again hearing calls for Congress to crack down on professional petitioners. This latest push comes in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal. As the cover of Time magazine noted, Abramoff is the lobbyist who "bought Washington." He recently pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials. But what's keeping some lawmakers awake into the wee hours is that it looks like he's going to start naming names.
Amid this backdrop, it's hardly surprising that we're again hearing promises to clean up Washington's lobbying culture — this time for good. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) already has said he will make lobby reform a top priority. Not to be outdone, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) has created a working group to address the issue. And for what it's worth, the Democrats have their own ideas on how to rein in the district's 34,000 registered lobbyists.
Lobbying is a perfectly legitimate activity, and one that providers have used over the years to educate, enlighten and sometimes warn lawmakers. But it's time for some sunshine. True lobbying reform would benefit both the nation and providers. But already, some in the GOP are voicing opposition to virtually every suggestion that has come up, including a blanket ban on privately funded travel, to stricter limits on gifts, to an end to gym privileges for lawmakers-turned-lobbyists.
Most sitting Democrats are probably not too thrilled about dramtically changing the rules, either.
After all, those now in Congress have little to gain by adjusting the status quo. Reform things a bit, and some non-connected greenhorn from the home state just might pull off an upset victory. And who wants to get kicked out of the world's best frat house?
Once the dust settles, something sounding like The Lobbying Reform Act of 2006 will probably pass. It will likely put a few new rules in place. And afterward, speeches will be made about how corruption will no longer be tolerated.
But rest assured, whatever becomes law will have loopholes through which an incumbent could drive a re-election.

John O'Connor
Vice President
McKnight's Long-Term Care News
john.oconnor@mltcn.com