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High Fives in the Skybox

January 18, 2005



Next month, Washington's approximately 25,000 registered individual lobbyists are expected to report more than $2 billion in lobbying fees for 2004, a new record.

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Congress has tried to limit the sea of dollars flowing into political campaigns, and now it appears that lobbying needs some reform of its own.

The case of Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff underscores the need for tighter rules in the influence-pedaling business. Between 1999 and 2003, Mr. Abramoff allegedly facilitated fundraising events for several congressmen in four Washington-area luxury stadium skyboxes - boxes paid for with lobbying money from his Indian tribe clients. The tribes wanted him to protect their gambling interests on Capitol Hill.

Last fall, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee accused Abramoff of bilking six Indian tribes of $82 million in exchange for forwarding their interests to lawmakers. It seems the Indian tribes were duped. The matter now is the subject of a Justice Department inquiry.

Meantime, the Senate probe also found that the millions Abramoff was paid were funneled through an associate's public relations firm, which did not have to file any disclosures to the Federal Election Commission.

Though just what Abramoff did under the guise of lobbying and campaign fundraising still isn't fully clear, the tale shows that the 1995 Lobbying Disclosure Act needs serious improvement. Even lobbyists on Washington's K Street corridor have said they view the act as "voluntary." And because of its weak disclosure requirements, it's rarely enforced.

All the more reason to make sure the rules governing lobbyists are comprehensive, clear, enforceable, and enforced. Americans can't let money define how laws are written.

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