The Abramoff scandal has spurred one of the episodic “reform” moments on Capitol Hill.
Republicans and Democrats are competing to offer ethics reform packages that ignore entirely their past entanglement in the very activities they now seek to regulate or eliminate.
Not all of these reforms are toothless, and if enacted and enforced, some may, perhaps, reduce the scale and scope of corruption that has reached a zenith in the Congress.
But there is far too little attention being devoted to what exactly is provided in exchange for the favors that lobbyists bestow on members of Congress.
Those gifts — the campaign contributions, the airplane rides, the visits to resorts disguised as speech opportunities — are not really gifts as such. They are more like investments (or quasi-bribes). And they are investments that pay back beyond the dreams of the greediest Wall Street prospector, in the form of corporate welfare: grants and direct subsidies, government giveaways, bailouts, tax subsidies, loopholes and other escapes, below-market loans and loan guarantees, export and overseas marketing assistance, pork for defense, transportation and other companies, regulatory removals, immunities from civil justice liability, and a host of other government-provided benefits.
To take one example of note: the Washington Post reported on December 31 how Jack Abramoff helped arrange the payment of half a million dollars from textile firms in the Mariana Islands in the Pacific, to a front group controlled by Tom DeLay. In exchange, they “solicited and received Rep. DeLay’s public commitment to block legislation that would boost their labor costs, according to Abramoff associates,” the Post reported. Textiles made in the Mariana Islands may be labeled “Made in the USA,” the factories there are exempt from U.S. labor law, and working conditions are appalling.
Nader goes on to detail the types of “favors” that need to be outlawed in order to make it possible for government to extricate itself from corporate influence. His suggestions are ones that would actually have “teeth,” unlike the watered-down proposals forthcoming this week from Democrats.