Friday, January 05, 2007

Senate Democrats and a weak ethics reform bill

Now that the Democrats (barely) control the Senate, they have the chance to live up to their campaign rhetoric and actually make substantial ethics reforms. But they’re not off to a good start. They are basing their reform package on the weak Republican reform bill from last year that does little more than make cosmetic changes to existing rules.

The Senate will be debating ethics reform next week, and it is certain that amendments will be offered, most of which will attempt to weaken the rules and keep the loopholes that less-than-scrupulous folk took advantage of (for example, Jack Abramoff and Tom “Let Them See Jesus In Me” Delay). The Lieberman-Collins amendment, on the other hand, could strengthen the rules considerably. That amendment calls for the creation of an independent office of Public Integrity. Such an office would be problematic since it calls to mind the old question of “Who will guard the guards?” However, the idea is worth pursuing.

In addition, the Lieberman-Collins amendment would, it is hoped, put the brakes on “Astroturf” groups. In case you are not familiar with the term, these are groups that publicize themselves as grassroots organizations of concerned citizens (like the Stop Overspending (SOS) group that almost made it on the ballot in the last election), but are in fact funded by special interests.

Now is the time to call or write Stabenow and Levin and urge them to support the Lieberman-Collins amendment and any other amendments that will lead to serious ethical reform. In the last election, Democrats put ethics reform as a top priority: now it is up to us to make sure they follow through on their promises.

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