Into every law a little loophole must fall but in the case of the most recent set of laws limiting lobbyist/lawmaker contact the loophole is a three-storied, red-bricked, bay-windowed monster of a problem with a dollar sign stamped on top. This USA Today article shows why business will go on as usual so long as lobbyists can raise money for lawmakers and pay handsomely for that special access to Congress.
Even as Congress pats itself on the back for banning lobbyist-funded three martini lunches, in the well-appointed houses that line the streets around the Capitol companies that laid out a few million for a piece of prime fundraising real estate are helping selected lawmakers rake in campaign dough.
Despite a strict new ban on gifts to lawmakers, lobbyists routinely use these prime locations to legally wine and dine members of Congress while helping them to raise money, campaign records show. The lawmakers get a venue that is often free or low-cost, a short jaunt from the Capitol. The lobbyists get precious uninterrupted moments with lawmakers — the sort of money-fueled proximity the new lobbying law was designed to curtail. The public seldom learns what happens there because the law doesn't always require fundraising details to be reported.
It's no secret that lobbyists are an important arrow in the quiver of a Congressman's fundraising operation since they're well motivated to write checks, and used to how the game is played. All the attention to banning lobbyist funded travel and meals (good steps to be sure) has perhaps eclipsed more pointed discussion about campaign contributions and current disclosure regulations that amount to free money for candidates:
Under federal election rules, groups can provide lawmakers free food, drink and a fundraising venue if they disclose that spending as contributions, usually through their political action committees. Those count against the limits of $10,000 per two-year election cycle for PACs and $4,600 for individuals.
Or they can charge the lawmaker, in which case the expense should show up in election records if it exceeds $200.
In theory, this should mean nearly all events are disclosed, allowing the public to learn which special interests have hosted fundraisers for which legislators. In practice, a list of exemptions prevents that.
The FEC allows lobbyists to give their space to federal candidates, or charge a nominal fee, if they also make it available at little or no cost to charities and civic groups.
FedEx provides its town house free to members of Congress and charities, spokesman Maury Lane said, so there is no public record of the fundraisers. Lane said he didn't know how many events were held.
Another exemption allows an individual to spend up to $1,000 hosting a fundraiser in his home without reporting it or having it count against contribution limits, a provision Graefe said allows most of his events to go undisclosed.
Because some lobbyists charge less than $200 for rent, campaigns don't have to itemize those payments — leaving no record connecting the lawmaker to the lobbyist-hosted event. Hoyer declined to answer questions for this story. His spokeswoman, Stacey Bernards, said, "This may be an area where there could be more transparency."
Sure, there should be more transparency but that won't stop the money from changing hands or the special access from being had. We need to cut the cord between Congress and big lobbying money, pass the Fair Elections Now Act to give candidates a way to run for office without chasing big checks, and get our legislators out of fundraising receptions and back into the Capitol.