For those who want a change in the way Washington D.C. does business, the DeLay-Abramoff scandals are the gift that keeps on giving.
The U.S. Senate has it wrong if it thinks the sleight of handiwork it pulled off earlier this week on "lobby reform" is the last it will see of the issue this year. Look no further than the breaking news today that ex-DeLay aide Tony Rudy pled guilty to a felony conspiracy count connected to his work with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. This news comes just two days after Abramoff was sentenced to 70 months in his Florida SunCruz fraud case. Both men have agreed to cooperate with authorities in exchange for less jail time.
The Senate's response thus far has been to pass a measure banning gifts and meals from lobbyists and modifying the process by which "earmarks" are made to the budget. Sure, Jack Abramoff's wining and dining of lawmakers and their staff will not occur under the new law, but the wealthy interests that hire the Abramoffs will be free to continue that fine gourmet tradition. Still, that's of far less import that the campaign donations lobbyists and their clients provide for our members of Congress. Just yesterday, the Center for Responsive Politics released its $72 million tally of political donations made by Abramoff clients. That's the money reform should target. But the current Congressional debate has yet to focus on Clean Elections public financing measures that would relieve our elected leaders of their dependence on such funds.
What will it take for Congress to move forward with more serious changes? Well, if scandal is what's brought us this far, the ride is sure to continue, as Sen. John McCain noted Wednesday. In a Washington D.C., already nervous about the next round of corruption disclosures, the Rudy pleading, which already means more trouble for U.S. Representative Bob Ney, may also lead to additional legal woes for former Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Stay tuned.