For ages lobbyists in Washington and some lawmakers have simply had a whale of a time. Funded by annual budgets running into billions of dollars and located mainly on Washington's legendary K Street these lobbyists have over the years come to significantly influence almost every area of government. Expensive gifts for lawmakers and their staff, free vacations and lavish entertainment have been the order of the day.
What is lobbying? It is a concerted effort to get a particular result from someone in authority. Usually this means government authority. Reputed to have started during the tenure of President Ulysses S Grant, over the years the term has come to refer to the political wheelers and dealers in the capital. Nowadays it is an accepted profession. Flush as they are with funds these people are an important source of campaign funding. Since most of them are linked to big corporations the nagging fear has always lingered that lawmakers may be corrupted once in office.
A few days back Congress passed an entirely new set of ethics and lobbying rules. Lobbyists can no longer offer lavish hospitality as in the past. They face up to five years in prison and stiff financial penalties if they do so. The only exception is for "widely attended events."
Federal prosecutors are clearly on the warpath and may even end up treating certain campaign contributions as bribes.
Rules were there earlier but were meant for lawmakers and not for lobbyists. They were also rarely enforced. For instance since 1995 under the Federal Lobbying Disclosure Act most professional lobbyists are required to register themselves and file reports twice a year. However there were many loopholes in these rules. Now indications are that the government means business.
These rules are the result of recent scandals which have damaged the image of the political system. However serious doubts remain as to whether, if at all, these new rules will ever be enforced. Till such rules are strictly followed ethical conduct of government will be no more than a pipe dream.