WEASELS UNDERMINE ETHICS REFORM

The word "weasels" not only describes furry, burrowing rodents – but also corporate lobbyists who madly tunnel loopholes through our country's ethics laws.

The word “weasels” not only describes furry, burrowing rodents – but also corporate lobbyists who madly tunnel loopholes through our country’s ethics laws.

Take Doheny Global, an energy and real estate corporation. Last year, it hosted a week-long schmoozefest for potential investors, inviting them to hobnob in Israel with “an elite cadre” of power brokers, specifically including such members of congress as Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen a Florida Republican. Participants had to pay $18,500 each to be part of Doheny’s dog-and-pony show – but the corporation covered the tab for congress critters and their spouses.

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Wait – didn’t Congress “reform the system” and make these influence-peddling junkets illegal by prohibiting corporate lobbyists from paying for congressional travel? Well, yes. Lobbyists can no longer pay for the travel, gala parties, and other bennies that lawmakers are given on these junkets – but a loophole allows lobbyists’ corporate clients to foot the bill.

Likewise, the Congressional Black Caucus held a conference last year in a Gulf Coast casino. Again, major corporate interests weaseled their way into the gathering – the health care workshop was sponsored by Eli Lily, the session on climate change was funded by electric utilities, and Wal-Mart sponsored a clinic on – get this – skeet shooting!

Since the caucus’ events were organized by a lobbyist, the corporations were not allowed to fund them directly. No problem, though – a convenient loophole lets them give money to a non-profit set up by the caucus, and it pays for the events. Caucus members did have to pay for their travel, but they could buy tickets using campaign funds, including money donated by the corporations.

Not all weasels are in the woods – watch out for them whenever lobbyists and lawmakers team up to “reform” the system.

“Ethics Rules for Congress Curb but Don’t End Trips,” The New York Times, December 7, 2009.

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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