17 March 2009

Just Another Small Town

When I lived in Washington state, I became aware of an interesting law. It is true that the state of Washington has a number of interesting laws, but this particular one made a great deal of sense: in a school district of less than 400,000 residents, it is unlawful for a teacher to be married to a school board member.

This one makes sense because of the opportunities for conflict of interest and mischief that could take place. For instance (and I am not accusing anyone of anything appropriate), when I lived there, one of our school administrators had been raised in the community, and had relatives who were members of the school staff and board. After he left and took a job at another school district, I heard he was happy as a clam not having to deal with those sorts of entanglements.

What is the point? Well, one of the many interesting things that came up in the news recently occurred during the consideration of former Sen. Tom Daschle for the post of Chief of the Secretariat of Socialized Medicine... I mean, Secretary of HHS. It seems that Mr. Daschle's wife is a lobbyist for the Airline and aircraft industry. A former Miss Kansas, she worked for the Federal Aviation Administration in the Clinton administration and now represents the interests of airlines and aircraft manufacturers before Congress. She began her work as a lobbyist while her husband was the Senate majority leader.

I was wondering how common this was, so I googled a number of terms regarding legislator, senator, representative, spouse and lobbyist. I came up with only two articles on the entire Internet, one from Washington Monthly from 1995, and the other a 2007 piece from the Washington Post.

I do not believe that any of those listed in the 1995 article are still in office. The WaPo article mentions as lobbyists the spouses of Senators Byron Dorgan, D - North Dakota, Elizabeth Dole, R - North Carolina, Ted Stevens, formerly R - Alaska, and Kent Conrad, D - North Dakota. I think it's also safe to say that even though he never registered as a lobbyist, the spouse of Hillary Clinton, formally D - New York was also a engaged in lobbying.

House of Representatives members whose spouses are also registered lobbyists include Roy Blunt, R - Missouri and Stephen LaTourette, R - Ohio.

As the fallout from Mr. Daschle's appointment, we also learned that there individuals who work for law firms and lobbying firms who claim to have duties other than lobbying, and therefore are not registered lobbyists. These would include the spouses of Senators Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R - Texas, and Richard Durbin, D - Illinois.

The article does discuss an attempt by Sen. David Vitter to bar the practice of Senate spouses lobbying the Senate. (Sen. Vitter apparently has reason to keep his spouse far from his office.) That paragon of virtue, Sen. Harry Reid, said that he would support this legislation as long as it grandfathered/grandmother in all the spouses currently lobbying. The legislation has gone nowhere.

This of course completely ignores the issue of children of legislators, etc. etc.

Given how little attention this matter has gotten from the press over the years, I was led to a further question in my mind: do journalists not report on such things because they don't want the careers of their spouses examined? How many journalist spouses are involved in lobbying in Washington DC?

The Washington Post article does go on to say,

Typically, according to their offices, those Senators with lobbyists-spouses do not let their spouses lobby them with their staff personally.
Well isn't that noble of them? "Hi senator. I'm a lobbyist. Of course, I do not lobby my husband directly. You know my husband, don't up? He's the Senate majority leader?"

But really, isn't official Washington, especially Capitol Hill, just a metropolitan version of a small-town? Shouldn't our Senators and Representatives hold them selves to least as high a standard of avoiding conflict of interest as a small-town Washington school board?

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