Although ethics reform in politics seems to travel as a snail's pace, and in many cases, including in Wisconsin, it actually takes a step backwards, things probably are better than they used to be. If you don't believe me read the biography of Lyndon Johnson.
An amusing story in the New York Times details the way companies are circumventing the new Congressional rule that bans earmarks for for-profit businesses.
Just one day after leaders of the House of Representatives announced a ban on earmarks to profit-making companies, Victoria Kurtz, the vice president for marketing of a small Ohio defense contracting firm, hit on a creative way around it.
To keep the taxpayer money flowing, Ms. Kurtz incorporated what she called the Great Lakes Research Center, a nonprofit organization that just happened to specialize in the same kind of work performed by her own company - and at the same address.
Representative David R. Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat and Appropriations Committee chairman who announced the ban, declined to comment on the new earmark rule. But his spokesman, Ellis Brachman, said he was unaware of any cases in which profit-making companies had tried to circumvent it or in which House Democrats had assisted them. He added that the panel was committed to finding such cases, if they exist.
Yeah right. Is the Congressional leadership really going to crack down on the many Democratic members who exploit the loophole enthusiastically, in search of campaign contributions and pork projects in their districts?
Nope. Just like Wisconsin Assembly Democrats, who made sure to carve a giant loophole in their self-imposed ethics reform last year, D.C. Democrats have shown little commitment to cracking down on the grease that makes the wheels of power turn.
Pork barrel spending is not really a fiscal issue. $16 billion is nothing in the context of the U.S. budget. However, just a sliver of that money is enough to feed many-a-lobbyist and it is enough to fuel a lot of campaign contributions. For those reasons, it remains an important ethical issue.