01/07/06 — Protect the process: Abramoff scandal points to need for vigilance

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Protect the process: Abramoff scandal points to need for vigilance

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that there have been a whole bunch of questions about campaign finances in recent years.

In fact, when most Americans read the saga of Jack Abramoff and his shady dealings with some members of Congress, they probably shook their heads, paused for a moment to make a comment about corruption and Washington, and then flipped over to see the latest predictions on this weekend’s football games.

We are that used to less-than-honorable acts when it comes to politicians and the people whose businesses are built around influencing them.

There is no question that the lobbyist-legislator relationships in Washington are a reason for concern — and it is not so surprising that there are still too many instances where donations and other perks cross the line.

And while one party might take turns pointing out the misdeeds of the other, the reality is that you can take just about any scandal from one party and find another equally as shady somewhere in the other.

As a common man or woman not connected to someone important in Washington or one of the nation’s powerful lobbying interests, it is easy to dismiss influence peddling as just another facet of politics that cannot really be regulated or eliminated.

It seems to be tilting at windmills to even suggest that legislation or anything else could keep the aisles of Congress, and sometimes presidential campaigns, clear of the influence money provides.

In the wake of the Abramoff scandal, there will be lots of talk about lobbyists, influence and how best to come up with a way to make the American political process fairer and really of, by and for the people.

Legislation will be proposed and debated, and those who are not currently under the spotlight for some questionable dealings themselves will tout it as the new weapon for fairness.

But we, their employers, need to be a whole lot more skeptical — and vigilant.

There are more than just the usual, overt ways of getting your way in Washington.

We need to watch freebies of all sorts — and be especially careful of campaign contributions and recruitment efforts that are command performances rather than the choices of individuals — unions and Hollywood get-out-the-vote campaigns come to mind.

Foundations are another sore spot and another place to watch for money that shouldn’t be there — and that has no discernible source other than a lobbying group.

To protect our freedom, we must protect the process by which decisions are made — and the fairness surrounding the way our representatives are elected. That is how a democracy remains a democracy.

Demanding that campaign finance reform and other rules about how our legislators conduct themselves have some teeth is a great way to get back on the right track.

Published in Editorials on January 7, 2006 11:17 PM