Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review June 24, 2003 / 24 Sivan, 5763

Jonathan Turley

Turley
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
MUGGER
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports


'Educating' Congress at the hands of lobbyists


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Consider the following scene. A lobbyist comes into a congressional office and gives an envelope filled with $100,000 in cash to a member of Congress.

The member expresses shock and throws the envelope back at the lobbyist as a "crude attempt at bribery." Embarrassed, the lobbyist returns a few minutes later with two first-class tickets and expenses to Europe worth $100,000.

The member thanks the lobbyist for helping the public better understand his industry and accepts the travel package on behalf of himself and his wife.

In the bizarre world of Washington ethics, the distinction by the member is the very essence of good government. In a loophole that you could drive a tour bus through, lobbyists have been spending millions on travel for members of Congress, their aides, and spouses by characterizing trips as "educational." This month, Congress responded to a growing public outcry due to recent abuses. Rather than close the loophole, however, Congress told members to be more efficient and discreet by spending only two nights at a time at resorts and golf outings.

Congressional rules prohibit the acceptance of gifts worth more than $50, but members argue that these are not gifts but an education. After all, a congressional mind is a terrible thing to waste. Dozens of members have found that, when properly lathered in sun screen and lubed with pina coladas, they can actually visualize the public interest. It turns out that the most conducive learning environment is that well-known center for intellectual discourse and academic research, Las Vegas.

Rep. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) was "educated" in Las Vegas at the ritzy Bellagio Hotel by the National Association of Broadcasters. He was flown first-class to Las Vegas, given tickets to a special performance by Jay Leno, supplied with free poolside drinks and given a $105 Swedish massage in his room. Burr has insisted that the trip was important to his understanding of the industry that he regulates as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Burr later joined Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) to be educated by the Nuclear Energy Institute about nuclear storage at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

However, Burr and Boehner felt that they could best understand Yucca Mountain not by visiting Nevada but with a paid tour of Barcelona and Seville, Spain--with their wives--at a cost of roughly $34,000.

These trips have brought new meaning to the mantra in Congress of maintaining a "pro-education" record.

Consider a few of the other recently disclosed educational and "public interest" functions:

  • The American Association of Airport Executives gave almost $100,000 to send three House members and six aides to be educated in Hawaii.

  • House Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) was given $18,000 by the recording industry to tour Asia to speak to foreign leaders.

  • Sixteen Democratic senators recently unwound from denouncing corporate abuses on the Senate floor by immediately leaving for a trip to Nantucket, Mass., on corporate jets supplied by companies like BellSouth and Eli Lilly.

  • Three Democratic members of Congress went on an expenses-paid cruise on a Royal Caribbean ship and attended such educational events as the Budweiser Bon Voyage Party and the Bud Lite Beach Party. Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) (who brought her sister), and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) were hosted by the Tom Joyner Foundation as part of a trip dedicated to scholarships for historically black colleges. (A House Ethics Committee recently forced the members to pay back some of the money because it viewed the week-long cruise to be excessive.)

  • The Recording Industry Association of America has insisted on educating members and staffers in Nashville, including daily tours of the city's highlights, nightly shows, and free parties at swank bars.

Executive branch officials have used the same loopholes to accept millions from private industry. For example, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell and his colleagues accepted almost $3 million for extensive travel expenses from media companies before their controversial vote to relax merger rules in favor of those same industry interests. Trips to Las Vegas were accepted to better understand the implications of media mergers. In the meantime, Powell refused to hold some public hearings for citizens because of a lack of money.

These lobbying practices do not come cheap, but companies clearly have found that they are worth the money. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America has committed $150 million for various lobbying efforts, including the purchase of an "intellectual echo chamber of economists;" the placement of op-ed articles by third parties; funding of overtly independent "research;" and an additional $12.3 million for "alliance development" to secure support from influential groups and individuals.

The more honest members (in Washington terms) admit that it is the location that prompts their participation in these sessions. When questioned how he could allow a staff member to be given an expenses-paid trip by an industry group to Kona, Hawaii, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) stated that the group had to hold it in Hawaii because "if they held it in Newark, a lot fewer people would go."

Anywhere outside of Washington, these trips would be called what they really are: bribes.

There is an easy way to solve this problem. Congress needs to simply prohibit any acceptance of travel or expenses by members from outside groups. Lobbyists would then be forced to educate members and their aides in their offices. Certainly, members may have found it easier to absorb facts during a Swedish massage at the Bellagio, but they can probably get the gist with a cup of coffee and a fact sheet.

The House Ethics Committee suggested that it would crack down on these trips by limiting them to two days. This is akin to forcing outright bribes to be put in small bills for the purposes of appearance.

Most members continue to believe that voters simply don't care. Besides, citizens still are getting the best government money can buy--it is just not their money.

Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.



JWR contributor Jonathan Turley is a professor at the George Washington University Law School. . Comment by clicking here.

06/12/03: Crooked arm of the law
06/10/03: Defense on lay-away
05/23/03: Innocence doesn't pay, either
05/15/03: A see-no-evil parole system
05/08/03: An American Gulag?
05/01/03: CUNY Law gives grads a cynical parting gift
04/22/03: Congress Must Send Spammers a Message
04/16/03: End Apartheid in the State Prisons
04/07/03: NBC's sacking of Peter Arnett over a critical analysis plays well in Baghdad
03/07/03: Rights on the Rack: Alleged torture in terror war imperils U.S. standards of humanity
02/25/03: How democracy could clear our snowy streets
02/11/03: Sanity and Justice Slipping Away
01/28/03: Quit horsing around, senator
01/14/03: Public Payroll: a Family Affair; Nepotism in Washington poses a threat to institutional integrity
01/09/03: DARPA and democracy
12/24/02: The 13th juror
12/19/02: Back to the admissions morass
12/10/02: Pro-Choice at Expense of Free Speech; NOW case against abortion protester may backfire
12/02/02: A cruel bait and switch for vets
11/15/02: Junk justice
11/07/02: OUR second-class soldiers
10/30/02: 'Quirin' revisited: The dark history of a military tribunal
10/22/02: Un-American Arrests: Mass detainments of the innocent may be the ultimate form of crowd control, but the tactic is unconstitutional
10/16/02: Reverse pawn shops? Broke state officials across the country have been looking for businesses to buy their assets at a fraction of their worth to pay for budget shortfalls
10/08/02: A legal tattoo hullabaloo
10/02/02: Gagged justice sets dangerous precedent
09/25/02: The Great Salmon Rose Caper
09/17/02: Reparations: A Scam Cloaked in Racial Pain
09/12/02: This country's hidden strength
09/04/02: 1st Amendment protects even the ugliest among us
08/28/02: A secret court goes public
08/20/02: I defended Ashcroft during his nomination; he's become a constitutional menace
08/07/02: San Francisco embracing states-rights
07/31/02: Who needs Jenny Craig when you can have Johnnie Cochran?
07/22/02: The meaning of justice and the madness of Zacarias Moussauoi
07/16/02: The President vs. the Presidency
07/08/02: How one woman's whims dictates the rights of millions
07/02/02: Just say 'no' to extracurricular activities
06/24/02: Missing Ted Bundy
06/14/02: DESTROYING A FAMILY TO SAVE IT
06/10/02: A comedy of eros06/14/02: 05/31/02: Beyond the 'reformed FBI' hype
05/23/02: Do we really need a Federal Marriage Amendment?
05/19/02: No "battlefield detainee" should leave home without a U.S. birth certificate
05/10/02: The perfect constitutional storm
04/26/02: 'Slave of Allah' wounds justice
04/12/02: The importance of being nameless
04/05/02: The adjusted value of justice
03/18/02: How Clinton got off: A law professor's take
03/11/02: Profiling and the terrorist lottery
03/05/02: Yes, Sharpton, there was a failure of justice
02/28/02: The Lay of the land
02/14/02: Living in constitutional denial
02/05/02: Legal Lesson for Afghanistan: War's Not a Slip-and-Fall Case
01/25/02: Sever "Jihad Johnny"'s ties to his homeland
01/21/02: "Out of sight, out of mind," but they're still prisoners
01/14/02: Your papers, please!
01/07/02: Prescription for disaster
12/18/01: Madison and the Mujahedeen
12/07/01: In the U.S., espionage crime is easy to understand but difficult to prove
11/19/01: What type of 'creature' would defend bin Laden?
11/19/01: Could bin Laden be acquitted in a trial?
10/28/01: The ultimate sign of the different times in which we are living
10/25/01: Al-Qaida produces killers, not thinkers
09/28/01: The Boxer rebellion and the war against terrorism
08/31/01: Bring back the silent Condit
08/27/01: Working out the body politic

© 2002, Jonathan Turley