by Bernard Levy
“We’re Mad as Hell...” Have the Candidates Take the FCP Pledge; No Lobbyist Gifts While in Office—Not Even a Cup of Coffee
After being overwhelmed, as other columnists and citizens have been, with transparent legislative and executive branch corruption, we are reminded of that wonderful line in the 1976 film Network, starring Faye Dunaway and William Holden. However, the actor deserving the most credit was Peter Finch. As Howard Beale, a TV network personality, he developed great network ratings for his statement, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore.”
That statement has never been truer than today regarding the corrupt ways of the legislative and executive branches of government, although we are particularly concerned with Congress. Some background regarding special interest activities is needed.
The place and importance of private interests pursuing the eyes, heart and ears of public officials to affect public policy dates back to our founding fathers attempting to win support of our Constitution. In fact, it’s been argued that the Federalist Papers was a first attempt to sway the general public of the 13 colonies to ratify our Constitution. Individual and group pressure to promote legislation isn’t anything new to our governmental system. However, since the passing of the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 (LDA), there has been much concern about the ability and willingness of Congress to oversee the activities of professional lobbyists. In our current legislative session, at least 17 measures have been proposed in the House and nine in the Senate to bring under control the egregious conduct of both lobbyists and Congresspersons.
The number of registered professional lobbyists has overwhelmingly increased, from 10,798 in 1996 to 30, 402 in 2004.
It is apparent that, even with all the current legislative and regulatory rules in place, and measures proposed, the recently-exposed scandals make it clear that lobbyists are running amok in the halls of Congress, enticing Congresspersons to compromise their integrity and oaths of office.
Let’s call a shovel a shovel. It’s almost impossible to legislate and enforce “ethics.” Then, how do we keep our government “clean?” People are human, and most are corruptible, even sanctimonious, moralists like Duke Cunningham, the ex-Congressman from Southern California who is currently serving a lengthy federal prison term. A highly-decorated war hero and a supposed ethical bastion, he’s just one of many examples of presupposed Congressional angels falling from grace.
Where do “we” start to clean the machinery of government? Do we begin at the top, Congress, where the foxes are in charge of the chicken house? They refused this session to provide for an independent oversight committee on ethics matters. Or, do we start at the bottom when candidates, including incumbents, are running for office?
Duh! We start at the bottom, which brings us to our campaign. At first blush, our proposed candidate statement seems sophomoric and silly. However, let’s get to the “second blush.” It’s short, uncomplicated, direct, to the point and brings the real issue to light.
There is, of course, an inherent weakness in our campaign. We don’t address the solicitation and receipt of pressure and private-interest groups that contribute to candidates in their now election efforts, but any actions along those lines to curb such activities would likely violate constitutional rights. However, we can “force” the rascals—and the good persons—to declare they shall take no more gifts while serving the public in office. Read our printed lips—no more gifts, even though those gifts may be legal under the rules and laws.
The following is the statement we request that our readers present to as many candidates as possible for their signatures. What, you say that just because we get a signature doesn’t mean they’re going to fulfill their duty under the pledge? Maybe not. But it sets them up for exposure, hypocrisy (and perjury in a nonlegally binding sense). In the words of my nonfamous Uncle Joe, “It’s worth a shot.”
We encourage you to reprint the following pledge and reproduce it as many times as needed for submission to candidates. Let us know what your responses are. If a candidate signs the pledge, that’s very newsworthy, and we’ll make note of that when advised. If a candidate refuses to sign the pledge, it’s equally as newsworthy.
If elected, I pledge to not accept any gifts from lobbyists—not even a cup of coffee—while serving my constituents. I will not accept any special interest group gifts, whether lobbyist-promoted or not, for my reelection campaign coffers while serving in office. I realize that I could legally accept many gifts, both for reelection and during the term of my office, but I shall not do so.
If, for some reason, I fail in this pledge, I shall notify those individuals who have elected me and shall resume the straight and narrow ethical road once more, refusing all such gifts. If it is discovered that I have not been honest with my constituents, I encourage them to forward the results to the media for publication.
The graft and corruption and special interest-influencing of elected officials must stop. I realize I have a duty to listen to all lobbyists and special interest groups in order to make informed decisions on proposed and pending legislation, but I shall not accept any gifts in making my considerations. I am provided with sufficient salary and benefits to refuse such gifts.