The House Ethics Committee Parties On

The notorious House ethics committee – the one that in the previous Congress presided over the wave of Abramoff-related lobbying scandals without conducting a single investigation into any of them – recently issued absurd new guidelines to keep the “party” in the 2008 national party conventions.

The new lobbying and ethics law bans lobbyists and lobbying organizations from hosting or paying for lavish parties for lawmakers at the national party conventions. The new congressional ethics rule is worded very simply and the meaning obvious on its face. House Rule 25 reads as follows:

"During the dates on which the national political party to which a Member (including a Delegate or Resident Commissioner) belongs holds its convention to nominate a candidate for the office of President or Vice President, the Member may not participate in an event honoring that Member, other than in his or her capacity as a candidate for such office, if such event is directly paid for by a registered lobbyist under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 or a private entity that retains or employs such a registered lobbyist."

As it reads, it would seem this would be the end of lavish soirées sponsored by lobbyists to wine and dine lawmakers at the party conventions.

But wait! Lobbyists, lobbying organizations, party officials, everybody understood this would be the end of especially lavish access – and they all grumbled.  As for lawmakers, perhaps they simply could not bear to part with the lobbyist bashes. Quite frankly, they must have reasoned, what else is there to do at the conventions?

So the House ethics committee interpreted the new rule to prohibit lobbyists from sponsoring a party for a single lawmaker – but if the lobbyist wants to host a party for two or more lawmakers without honoring any specific lawmaker – such as a caucus or delegation of lawmakers – that would be just fine as far as the ethics committee is concerned.

Shame on them.

Ah, the House ethics committee continues to live up to its reputation of enforcing lobbyist access over ethics. This self-created and self-serving loophole must be closed now.  If it’s not, we will be glad to dog any lawmaker – or group of lawmakers who choose to flout the intent of the new lobbying and ethics law and party on at the conventions. 

I hope we don’t have to crash the party.  But if we do, I’ll see ya in St. Paul and Denver.