NEWT II …. So Newt Gingrich has also been making the talk-show rounds on Abramoff. Yes, his own past ethical problems make him a dubious messenger. And yes, you?re entitled to question the motives of anyone whose name is sometimes mentioned in the same breath as 2008 for seizing this moment to present himself as the voice for reform in Washington. (Heck, I wish more potential 2008 Democrats were seizing the spotlight.)
But Gingrich does have an enviable knack for getting attention and tossing off ideas — sometimes terrible ideas, sometimes better ones. In response to the Abramoff scandal he proposed:
1. Ban fundraising entirely in Washington. “The election process has turned into an incumbency protection process in which lobbyists attend PAC fundraisers to raise money for incumbents so they can drown potential opponents, creating war chests to convince [opposing] candidates not to run and freeing up incumbents to spend more time in Washington PAC fundraisers.” Alas, his diagnosis of the problem sounds better than his solution. Leaving aside the enormous hurdles to passing such a law, wouldn’t a DC ban just make Arlington the next boomtown for black-tie dinners?
2. Require lobbyists, members of Congress, and their staffs, to keep an online public record of their meetings. I don’t know the practical hurdles, but I have long heard similar entreaties for an online database of lobbyists’ activities from the left-leaning watchdog group Public Citizen.
It’s easy to make proposals when you’ve got little to lose — and potentially a lot to gain. But I don’t begrudge Gingrich, problematic though he may be, for seizing the megaphone to propose more than a nip here and a tuck there in current lobbying practices. (Look for the nip and tuck approach from Frist and Hastert in the coming weeks.)
Plus it’s hard not to enjoy the fact that, unlike 11 years ago when he campaigned against entrenched Democrats, Gingrich is now charging against the culture of incumbent Republicans ? though he won?t quite put it so bluntly. After all, he might need the establishment?s favor in two years.
UPDATE: I’m quoting from Gingrich’s Wednesday speech at Hotel Washington.
UPDATE II: Here’s Frist’s reaction to the big story: “I look forward to working to secure the continued integrity of the Senate.”