In the wake of recent scandals in the U.S. Congress, some type of lobbying reform appears to be in order. Unfortunately, the issue seems likely to get tangled up in "campaign finance reform." But the issues should not be conflated.
We need to separate lobbying reform from campaign finance reform. They are not the same thing. More regulations on American Indian tribes and 527 organization political activities won’t prevent future Abramoff-type scandals.
The Abramoff scandal focuses on bribery and fraud, which are already illegal. It also concerns activity that is legal but may skirt Congressional rules or generally accepted ethical norms. But these problems can be addressed through the internal rules of Congress. The solution need not jeopardize the constitutional rights of citizens and their advocates, the vast majority of whom are honest and diligent, to petition members of government.
Let's not put additional regulation on an already confusing campaign finance system. Instead, we should consider scrapping the current system entirely and rebuilding it while giving serious thought to how citizens do, and ought to, participate in campaigns given our nation's Constitution and traditions. We should consider the actual effects of campaign finance regulation on our system, rather than the wishful thinking of a small band of foundation-funded "reformers" whose prescriptions keep proving wrong.
Bradley A. Smith is a Goldwater Institute senior fellow and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. A longer version of this article appeared in Roll Call.