So here’s an idea for any reporter covering Congress. Grab a microphone and ask members on both sides of the aisle if they would support a rule — if not a law, just a simple ethics rule that could be promulgated by both the Senate and the House as a housekeeping measure — that would require any legislator to disclose any conflict of interest when performing any official act, such as voting on legislation, holding hearings, or interceding with a federal agency.
In other words, when Menendez or a staff member wrote to the State Department about his pal’s port deal, he would have been required to disclose to those officials, and also make public on his own website that the doctor was a good friend who had paid for his vacations and donated $700,000 to his campaign fund. More generally, whenever a member of the House or Senate cast a vote that helped a campaign donor, hurt a campaign donor’s competitors or aided the cause of a lobbyist- donor, he or she would be required to disclose it.
Would this result in a blizzard of disclosures accompanying almost every vote or other official act? Probably. But that kind of sunlight and accompanying embarrassment would be the point.
It would be fun to watch politicians squirming to figure out a way to avoid supporting a basic public policy principal — transparency — that seems as American as apple pie and that is free of the First Amendment issues that trump most efforts to regulate lobbying or campaign contributions. This, after all, is only about disclosure, not about prohibiting anything. The first interview, of course, should be with Menendez, who has repeatedly said he has nothing to hide. So doesn’t he think it would have been better to disclose his relationship with the good doctor when he took these unusually aggressive steps to intercede on the doctor’s behalf so that his constituents could then judge whether he was acting in the public interest?
4. Procurement Follies and the sequester:
A favorite line of liberals to explain their support of Rand Paul having used a 13-hour filibuster to question the president’s drone strike policies is that, as the saying goes, “a broken clock is right twice a day.”
Lately a lot of conservative blogs, like this one, have sounded the alarm that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has ordered more than 2,700 “mine-resistant armor protected vehicles” for domestic use. Could this be the second time the clock has been right?
My guess is that despite the right wing bloggers’ theory that these armored vehicles are for general “domestic use” on the “streets of the United States,” if they were ordered, the explanation from DHS will be that they are needed for border patrols. While not a tip-off to an Obama declaration of martial law or some such thing, that explanation would be a good lead-in to a sequester-oriented story about how so many of DHS’s procurement programs are emblematic of rampant waste and cronyism in Washington. For a refresher on one such multi-billion dollar fiasco - in this case, the failed deployment of high-tech sensors on the border rather than armored vehicles — see an item I wrote in this space last year.
That in turn suggests a broader, more fundamental story: Why hasn’t the Washington Post or Politico (assuming it aspires to go beyond DC process stories in a big, substantive way) scoured the various agencies and done its own thinking man’s sequester budget by finding obvious waste and expendable programs, the elimination of which would yield the $85 billion targeted in the sequester?