Editorial: A reminder to elect better people

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

For centuries laws have been passed to regulate human conduct. Sometimes

the lawmakers themselves can't quite trust one another, so they adopt their own list of do's and don'ts. Where the will is weak and the ambition grand, often it's not enough to cure those of notoriously bad habit.

And so we can say with confidence that the lobbying reform bill recently passed in Congress will not end political corruption in the nation's capital, or necessarily even achieve its stated intent of curbing the influence of special interest groups - insufferable unless they're championing our causes, and nothing if not creative, in any event.

That's not to say that the changes the law embraces are bad, because they do inch the ball forward. For the first time, contributions from lobbyists would have to be specifically and consistently disclosed, exposing to far more sunlight the process known as “bundling,” which allows special interest groups to pile up campaign checks from multiple donors on politicians' doorsteps. Lawmakers could no longer pack legislation with earmarks -- pork for pals -- anonymously. A gift ban would be put in place. Members of the House won't be able to fly the all-too-friendly skies in private jets anymore; senators will have to pay their way. The latter will have to wait longer to metamorphose into lobbyists themselves after they leave office. Those convicted of breaking the rules will face stiffer fines and jail time -- up to $200,000 and five years -- while having to forfeit their pensions.

The Los Angeles Times labeled this legislation “the most sweeping overhaul of congressional ethics rules since the Watergate era.” It was cheered by good-government groups such as Common Cause and Democracy 21. For too long, Americans have had the worst Congress that money can buy. All in all, there's no reason for President Bush not to sign this bill into law.

And yet, the overwhelming margins for its passage -- 411-8 in the House, 83-14 in the Senate -- make us somewhat skeptical that this fix is all it's cracked up to be. The truly motivated always seem to find a way around, over or under any such legislative wall. Laws against bribery and other forms of malfeasance have long existed, but they didn't stop former congressmen Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney from courting public

humiliation and prison. At least eight members of Congress are under federal investigation now. There's always another Jack Abramoff tempting the temptable -- of both major parties -- from the shadows.

We suppose majority Democrats deserve credit for doing what Republicans could not or would not when they ran Capitol Hill for a dozen years, which is one reason -- remember Tom DeLay? -- they no longer do. Still, people of integrity don't require legislation to make them do the right thing. We don't need more laws as much as we just need to elect better people.