Monday, October 29, 2007

Lobbyists "shouldn't be able to buy a seat"

I still recall how surprised I was when a high school civics teacher told the class about lobbies and lobbyists. The whole idea struck me as suspicious at best and corrupt at worst. That was nearly fifty years ago and I have lived to watch the whole enterprise grow fat and slick. Arianna Huffington's Pigs at the Trough captured the story several years ago and the phrase gets a wonderful array of delicious reading from a Google Blog search. The image has become part of our definition of culture. Obesity will soon be a mark of patriotism, just like obscenely lavish lifestyles. Maybe that's why my Trojan commercial post keeps getting hits.

Senator Claire McCaskill, the Junior Senator from Missouri, noticed lines of people waiting for a seat in a public hearing...but the people in the line were not there to attend the hearing. They were paid "place holders" whose job was to get a seat for someone else. Lobbyists employ these people to stay close to the legislators who accept their largesse.

"Once I realized this was happening, I was really offended," she told reporters outside the hearing room. "This is the people's government and these should be the people's hearings. I have no problem with lobbyists getting into hearings, but they shouldn't be able to buy a seat."

McCaskill introduced legislation Wednesday to bar registered lobbyists from doing just that at hearings in the same way they're barred from buying senators a steak dinner. The penalty would be the same, too: up to $200,000 in fines and up to five years in jail.

"I think America believes that money runs this place, and unfortunately, I think sometime it does," McCaskill said. "I think this is a great way for us to put our foot down."

Last week a California State Assembleyman jumped on the sanctions-against-Iran bandwagon in support of a state move to remove any and all state investments in Iran, announcing with righteous indignation, "Money is the mother's milk of terrorism."

Do a search for "money is the mothers milk of" and you will find that "politics" comes up. It's true for terrorists and drug smugglers, of course, but terrorism is way down the list, if at all. The pigs at the trough come in first.

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