Friday, December 09, 2005

Legislature Vows to Diet

The Florida legislature adjourned Thursday, after surprising everyone by actually pushing themselves away from the lobbyist feeding trough. As Joni James and Steve Bousquet report in the St. Petersburg Times:
Florida lawmakers, some of them reluctantly, approved Thursday a ban on gifts from lobbyists, agreeing to end the flow of food and drink that has lubricated dealmaking in Tallahassee for decades.
The situation we have had in Florida really is quite scandalous. Lobbyists have been slipping state legislators an average of $21,000 a year (according to the SP Times) or $22,000 (as reported yesterday by S.V. Date in the Palm Beach Post):
In 2004, lobbyists reported spending $3.5 million to provide food, drink, entertainment and "information" to the 160 legislators, an average of nearly $22,000 a lawmaker. Rules do not require lobbyists to identify which individual legislators they wined and dined.
That's an average of $22,000 every year crossing the palm of every state legislator -- out of public view, unrecorded, without the knowledge of voters ... in exchange for who-knows-what. The feeding frenzy has been so blatant that one state legislator, Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, predicted the bill "would result in "greasy bags" littering the Capitol because legislators would be forced to feed themselves," according to James and Bousquet.

Sure, there remain some ambiguities in the bill passed yesterday, as critics are pointing out. It's also true that other laws governing campaign finance and political party contributions doubtless will be exploited by greedy lawmakers colluding with influence-peddling lobyists. But this reform bill looks like a meaningful start on cleaning up a political system that has grown corpulent with corruption. Every diet begins with a first push away from the table.

Now, it's up to voters to see that their elected statehouse representatives don't begin sneaking around to snarf down midnight 'snacks' from monied interests.

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