A Bipartisan Brothel With a Revolving Door

The Montana Standard has a poignant editorial today that shows how the pay-to-play system in politics is now afflicting both political parties -- and how there is an alternative to it all.

The paper correctly notes that the bipartisan legalized bribery system in Washington, D.C. has gotten down to a scientific formula: "Work for a congressman for a few years, leave to start a private consulting firm, pick up a few large corporate clients, and have those clients donate money back to the senators' campaigns."

In other words, Washington, D.C. is one big brothel with a gilded revolving door for an entry -- politicians are the prostitutes, lobbyists are the customers, and the door spins faster and faster as the two seamlessly switch places.

You have to read no further than the Associated Press' recent expose on the pay-to-play system to know that this description is a fact. And it is a fact even when it comes to the policy areas that should be most off-limits to this kind of corruption. As the Los Angeles Times recently reported, "lobbyists representing transportation, energy and other special interests dominated panels that advised Louisiana's U.S. senators" -- Mary Landrieu (D) and David Vitter (R) -- who were "crafting legislation to rebuild the storm-damaged Gulf Coast."

Democrats, not surprisingly, are trying to make the recent corruption scandals surrounding Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) and Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) into a major 2006 issue, as they should. The problem is, there are those in their midst who are still playing footsie with this "culture" themselves. Just this week, for instance, Montana Sen. Max Baucus (D) got caught using an Abramoff-connected goon to help him raise money. To put it mildly, that's not helpful to Democrats working to position themselves as reformers.

This is why mere rhetoric berating a "culture of corruption" just isn't going to cut it for Democrats if they want to really make all of this an issue in 2006. It is going to take action and an actual change of behavior among Democratic poiliticians. The Montana Standard notes this very fact and points out at least one politician who is taking concrete steps to crackdown on the pay-to-play shenanigans. In contrast to Montana's congressional delegation, Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) has taken a stand by declaring "he won't employ registered lobbyists in state government." Schweitzer is also planning to push a statewide ballot initiative to force the legislature to accept commonsense lobbying and ethics reform.

Similarly, at least some courageous Democrats in Washington, D.C. seem to get the need for action. For instance, Rep. George Miller (D) is pushing a proposal to crackdown on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers, while Sen. Russ Feingold (D) has proposed a bill closing abusive lobbying loopholes.

The truth is, the public believes most politicians are corrupt -- and with lobbying now becoming a multi-billion-dollar industry, the public is clearly right. Unless the Democratic Party as a whole endorses and publicly promotes its support for concrete lobbying/ethics reforms, the public will only blame the GOP for getting caught, not for necessarily being worse than their opponents. Democrats have to give the public a reason to throw the Republicans out, and the only way to do that is to show the public how Democrats would be substantively different from the GOP in terms of cleaning up our government.

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