How strange to be a former lobbyist sitting back watching the hand wringing debate over lobbying reforms and ethics. To date nothing I've seen from Capitol Hill makes sense to me and the media is too consumed with ethics and revelation to talk about the real problem.
Damn straight when I gave a $1,000 or $2,000 to a lawmaker I wanted him to listen to my business proposition. And when I helped organize an event that raised $50,000 or $100,000 you bet I expected their vote. Why else do it? Now you can argue that the Member of Congress already took that position and I and my colleagues were just showing our support for their position. But how can the public really be sure of that?
The proposed reforms that everyone is talking about limit relationships between lobbyists and lawmakers - no trips, no lunches, no ball games, etc. EXCEPT FOR ONE THING! It turns out that when you limit access to lawmakers for all of these things, the only time a lobbyist can talk to a lawmaker is at fundraisers. Any kind of fundraiser by the way.
A lobbyist friend told me yesterday that enacting these reforms is like creating a "restraint of trade" on behalf of current lobbyists. Only those who already know members of Congress are sure to succeed. Anyone else coming in - forget it, no new relationships. The old school will be raking it in.
Members of Congress are CONSUMED with raising money for their re-elections (or if they have a safe seat, they raise money to give to colleagues to increase their internal power). It has become a burden. And no matter how cavalier they are about it in public, their hand wringing in private is certain. And anyone, including lobbyists, who lessen that anxiety, is considered a better friend than those that don't. It is just a fact. No lobbying reforms will change that fact.
Corruption is sometimes obvious, like with Jack Abramoff, but just as often in Washington it is a subtle thing that happens to decent people.
The ONLY answer to all of this is public financing of elections. Then lobbying becomes genuine "education" and relationships are built on respect and constituent interest. It seems so obvious.