To its credit, the Office of Government Ethics recently proposed regulations that make it harder for lobbyists to influence career and political appointees working in the executive branch of our federal government. Executive branch employees already have far more strictures keeping them from accepting gratuities and gifts than their counterparts in Congress, but these rules are another positive move. The new guidelines eliminate the "widely attended events" loophole in the gift ban, as well as halting the use of social invitations and "small" gifts from lobbyists to administration employees. A widely attended event was supposed to be an occasion open to the public, but in the world of Washington influence, it has morphed into any large event, including those closed to general admission. Only in our nation's capital would it become more appropriate to bring a public servant to an event with scores of lobbyists and influence mongers, rather than just a few. It's the same logic that allows congressmen to escape their loophole-laden gift ban on meals by converting the repast into a fundraiser.
Ultimately, all gratuities, gifts, contributions or any other conveyance of things of value to public servants from lobbyists or those seeking special favors from the federal government must be barred. Until that happens, each step in the right direction should be lauded and supported by those of us who value good and honest government.
Even most lobbyists accepted the new rules with equanimity. But not all.
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He raked in millions as a lobbyist in D.C., then served time behind bars -- don't miss Jack Abramoff's eye-opening autobiography, "Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth about Washington Corruption from America's Most Notorious Lobbyist"
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is the big boss of organized federal workers. They are also the nation's fastest-growing union – a reflection of the tragic fact that our government behemoth continues to grow even as America sinks into debt and default. AFSCME wields immense power on Capitol Hill, particularly among the Democrats. Indeed, they are arguably the most powerful group in the most influential industry controlling the Democratic Party. AFSCME lobbies both the Congress and the administration on a host of issues important to their organization, including ensuring that Congress does not curtail their ability to use their members' funds for political purposes.
AFSCME is surely a lobbying organization – perhaps one of the more effective of all – but they have no intention of allowing their erstwhile allies in the Obama administration to apply the new Office of Government Ethics rules to them. Those rules are for other lobbyists, not AFSCME. Indeed, according to AFSCME and their confederates in other unions, none of these lobbying rules should be applied to them. They claim that rules prohibiting federal employees from accepting "items of value" from unions might decrease membership in that union. Are they actually saying that, if they can't bribe federal employees to get their way, folks might stop joining their union? Not satisfied with that piece of sophistry, they have the temerity to assert that they are not really a lobbying organization at all. It seems that, these days, no one wants to admit they are a lobbyist.
Most Americans have been led to believe that lobbyists are those well-coiffed courtiers representing corporate America, handing out campaign contributions from the wealthy as they slither from their corporate limousine to the corporate board room. This is the image AFSCME wants us to have of lobbyists. But it is an incomplete picture. The special interests in our land don't all dress in Armani suits. Some of them are wearing the union label, and the lobbying done by these folks is as pernicious as can be.
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One of the most important items on the agenda of AFSCME is the expansion of the federal workforce. The cost to the taxpayer of these efforts is immense. Without serious reform in the federal worker pay and benefits structure, there is just no way to stop our nation from going over the fiscal cliff. But AFSCME and its supporters are a powerful roadblock to any serious reform effort. Their lobbying prowess puts almost every other lobby in this nation to shame.
Now, in an effort to continue their assault on our national pocketbook, they don't even want to be known as lobbyists at all. And they certainly don't want to be bothered by pesky rules like those proposed by the Office of Government Ethics.
A new wind is blowing in this nation, and Washington best start paying attention. Americans are sick of the corruption and the special favors granted to small sectors of our populace. Few are treated so well as federal government employees, whose pay scale is starting to dwarf that of their fellow citizens in the private sector. Considering these fellow citizens are paying the bills, one would think prudence would dictate a little caution and modesty on the part of the public-employees union, but prudence has not visited our nation's capital since the horse and buggy left.