Jeffrey Birnbaum at The Washington Post today turns in an eye-opening and disturbing story, headlined: "There's Always a Way; Exemptions From Ethics Rules Allow Lawmakers to Accept Almost Anything."
He goes on to list the loopholes and exceptions that allow lawmakers and lobbyists alike to skirt what are supposed to be meaningful ethics rules. Exceptions are made for campaign events and charities.
That's how Rep. Michael Crapo (R-Idaho) gets around charging lobbyists $2,500 a pop to "shoot...fish...and barbeque" with the legislator and his aides in Sun Valley. He calls it a "campaign fundraiser." Governmental ethics rules do not apply to campaign financing.
According to Birnbaum, investigations such as those into the behavior of Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) and Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA), are rare because "overt impropriety is so simple to avoid."
And while registered lobbyists are barred from paying directly for a legislator's travel, members of Congress have received more than $18 million in free travel from private organizations. The top four destinations are, predictably: Florida, California, New York and West Virginia (home of the luxurious Greenbrier Resort).
"The House Republicans' event list between mid-July and mid-August advertises 12 golf outings, four baseball games, a musical show and a night of 'champagne and caviar,'" Birnbaum writes.
You know...you should really just go read the whole story for yourself. There are too many tidbits to list here. You will be blown away.