Stop That Train!

Three cheers for the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus, who definitely understands what's going on. In "Derail These Fundraisers," she puts her finger precisely on what is so corrupt about Washington's pay-to-play culture, and why real reform is needed, and could make a big difference. She describes an invitation to "Joe Barton's 2006 Texas Train Ride" (tickets, $2,000 per individual, $5,000 per PAC) not so much to single out the Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, but to illustrate Washington's "culture of coziness," where powerful legislators sell access to wealthy interests on a daily basis, and no one blinks an eyelash. She writes:

It's this latter problem that ought to be foremost in lawmakers' minds as they scramble to write new rules to govern their dealings with lobbyists.

Even the strongest rules can't stop a lobbyist or lawmaker bent on corruption; see, e.g., not only Abramoff but also former California congressman Randy Cunningham, who pleaded guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors. Certainly, the more disclosure that is required, the fewer temptations that a lobbyist can legally dangle in front of a lawmaker and the less the opportunity for criminal mischief. But where lobbying reform could have its most cleansing effect is not with the crooks in Congress or the private sector but with those who play, more or less, by the rules of a fundamentally flawed system.

The world-weary Washington-insider take on lobbying reform is that it will be adopted and change nothing. That's wrong. True, the capital won't magically be transformed from Mr. Abramoff's Neighborhood to Mr. Rogers'. Reform also needs to be wholesale, addressing the array of systemic abuses, to be effective: Like fixing a leaky basement, patching just one or two damp spots won't keep undue influence from seeping in. And even the most effective rules, like the most careful repairs, tend to be eroded over time.

But that doesn't mean reform isn't worth doing. [Emphases added.]

This is dead on. We can't settle for half-measures.