Thursday, January 26, 2006

Let The Watering-Down Begin

Much like the Metro Council months before, the State Legislature is under pressure to dilute meaningful ethics reform. We've seen in China how corporate enterprise can be easily uncoupled from democracy (via Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Google search engines) and now we're seeing in Tennessee how corporate enterprise can be easily uncoupled from ethics (via the private lobbyists' lobby).

I am interested in how the conservative bloggers break on this one. How they do so might just determine whether they are serious about ethics reform or they use ethics reform only when it serves strategic partisan purposes. One conservative blogger has sided with business today saying that the ethics reform bill "insulates" the legislature from "ordinary citizens." As if. Most notably, Bob Krumm, who has posted regularly on ethics reform--especially on reform stories coming through the Tennessean--is silent on this one. That fact would not be remarkable for just any blogger, because we all pick and choose our battles, but Mr. Krumm is not just any blogger, he is a blogger seriously considering a run for the very same Tennessee legislature that is considering ethics reform. In that light, he owes the public some comment on the issue, in my opinion.

In the meantime, I was struck by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce President's comment to the Tennessean:
Even members of a 4-H Club on a field trip to visit the state Capitol could find themselves classified as lobbyists.
That prospect frankly would not be a problem for anybody if lobbying were a more honorable profession that didn't now require registration because lobbyists have abused the system. Why should pro-business lobbyists have more influence over the direction of ethics reform when they are just as responsible for abuses as elected officials in the first place? Shouldn't the business community have to accept some negative consequence for the misbehavior of their lobbyists? Or do we now live in a world where personal responsibility doesn't matter?

01/26/2006, 9:05 p.m. Update: H. Monroe (the first conservative blogger above) has responded in the comments section below. Bob Krumm responded to the Tennessean piece this evening here. Prospective candidate Krumm concludes:

[M]aybe the answer to reform is not to place further special restrictions upon lobbyists, but to remove from lobbyists both restrictions and privileges. Thus, granting to lobbyists the same rights as are already guaranteed to each of Tennessee's citizens.
Sounds to me like he's coming down on the side of business interests. The comment about "same rights" is confusing. Lobbyists already have the same rights as other citizens; surely Krumm is not suggesting that more money translates to more rights. The trouble is that lobbyists are paid by corporate funders to peddle their influence to legislators. Your average Tennessee citizen cannot afford to pay lobbyists, and hence, has less influence. If lobbying is itself a business and as long as lobbyists are paid for their services, they should be regulated by some ethical arm of the government. Otherwise, the abuse will continue.

1 comment:

  1. Mike, thanks for the link. I can assure you that I am serious about ethics reform; however I find the locus of the problem to be in the legislature, not among lobbyists. That is not to say that lobbyists are innocent bystanders, but I fear that much of what is being presented as ethics reform is nothing more than window dressing that will not get at the real problems.

    Both those who take liberal views of government policy and those who take a more conservative position should be able to agree that ethical government is crucial to the public good. I am no shill for either big business or for lobbyists; however, I think that this session should produce something meaningul. Goodness knows the state needs it.