THE HOUSE Democratic leadership is to meet this week to determine the content of the lobbying reform package it says is one of its top priorities. The key test of the leadership’s seriousness on this issue will be whether the proposal includes a provision to require lobbyists to disclose the bundles of cash they collect for lawmakers’ campaigns.
Such a requirement was contained in the Senate lobbying bill passed in January. The head of the House Democrats’ campaign committee, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), sponsored a similar requirement last year and is pushing it again this time around — despite the crimp it could put in his ability to raise money for his troops. But other influential House members are said to be balking, worried that merely requiring lobbyists to reveal the bundles could reduce the number and size of such donations.
This is, of course, precisely why disclosure is essential. The influence that lobbyists wield can’t be gauged by looking at their individual contributions. Their power comes in their capacity to deliver a stack of checks to grateful lawmakers. A lawmaker knows how much he or she is indebted to a lobbyist. So, you can be sure, does the lobbyist. The only ones in the dark are the public.
This provision wouldn’t ban bundling, just shine some sunlight on it. It wouldn’t apply to all big fundraisers, just ones who make their livings lobbying the legislators for whom they’re bringing in the bundles. House Democrats must keep this in mind: They’re in power in large part because of the cozy, and in some cases corrupt, relationships their predecessors had with lobbyists. If they want to stay in power, they need to demonstrate that they are willing, finally, to do something about this.
We couldn’t agree more.