A complete sham. A farce. A joke. That's how Common Cause describes  the current House bill which purports to change the way Congress does business. Of course, the problem with the watered-down bill  is precisely that it doesn't make any major changes to how Congress does business. It doesn't make significant changes to limit the influence of monied interests. Instead, it offers superficial requirements masquerading as reform, like mandatory "ethics training" for all House employees and perhaps eventually -- gasp -- for lawmakers, themselves. But despite its weaknesses, it will likely pass this week  with minimal public attention or outcry. Why?
The general view holds that the people outside the Beltway don't understand or care all that much about the arcane rules and regulations governing how lawmakers and lobbyists interact. A recent Washington Post article  reinforced this belief, reporting that, during their latest recess, lawmakers didn't hear much from constituents about corruption. They're not pushing for stronger ethics rules, the article says, "because voters do not appear to be demanding them."
<!--StartFragment -->A lot of public apathy over ethics reform stems from the conviction that lawmakers doing special favors for lobbyists is business as usual. Everyone does it. That's the way Congress is designed to work. But, what we're seeing in this Republican Congress is unprecedented. As Paul Waldman explained  recently on TomPaine.com, the excuse that corruption is bipartisan is true ... only to a point:
You<!--StartFragment --> could pile up all the congressional scandals from the four decades Democrats were in charge, and the result would be roughly equal in scale to what we've learned about Republicans in the last six months alone.
Certainly, both parties are guilty of paying attention to the highest bidder. This is why the best way to revolutionize American politics would be to institute a system of public financing  for state and federal campaigns. While progress is being made on that front, Congress is still a ways off from turning off the gushing spigot of special interest money that fuels election battles. In the meantime, passing stringent ethics reform could achieve an important measure of lawmaker accountability and law-making transparency.
The burden is on watchdog groups and public-interest minded politicians to connect the dots in plain-spoken American about how stronger ethics rules would yield fewer Jack Abramoffs. Fewer environmental laws written by lobbyists for the industries they're supposed to govern. Etcetera. The public doesn't care about the details behind ethics reform. They just care about the end result: eliminating the influence of monied interests on their elected representatives.
Nancy Pelosi, to her credit, is trying hard to make this link whenever she speaks on lobby reform. Last week on the House floor, for instance, she talked about  why the Democrats' proposal on lobbying reform was stronger:
<!--StartFragment -->[It] breaks the link between K Street lobbyists and the Congress of the United States. It's unequivocal, it's unambiguous. It bans gifts and travel from lobbyists and organizations that employ lobbyists. It prohibits use of corporate jets for official travel. It shuts down the K Street Project in which lobbying firms are trading jobs for legislative favors, and it shuts down the revolving door. It prohibits Members, senior staff and executive branch officials from lobbying their former colleagues for two years after leaving office.
But Pelosi's message isn't getting traction because it's not widely echoed. We need more straightforward talk like this from Pelosi and others. More like Molly Ivins' dishes out  in her latest column, in which she implores her readers to pay attention to the so-called lobby reform bill:
Come on, people, get mad. You deserve to be treated with contempt if you let them get away with this.
I’m sorry that all these procedural votes seem so picayune, and I know the cost of gas and health insurance are more immediate worries. But it is precisely the corruption of Congress by big money that allows the oil and insurance industries to get away with these fantastic rip-offs.
Watching Washington be taken over by these little sleaze merchants is not only expensive and repulsive, it is destroying America, destroying any sense we ever had that we’re a nation, not 298 million individuals cheating to get ahead.
I’m sorry these creeps in Congress have so little sense of what they’re supposed to be about that they think it’s fine to sneer at ethics. But they work for us. It’s our job to keep them under control until we can replace them. Time to get up off our butts and take some responsibility here.<!--StartFragment -->