Burton on the Bay:
Ain't Politics Grand?
My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there's hardly any difference.
-Harry S. Truman
That's the way to go, HST, tell it in plain English.
More than 28 years after your death, your words ring true at the State House in Annapolis, where our duly elected and shameless delegates and senators are playing footsies with a special brand of constituents they hold above all others: the lobbyists.
Which brings up a question for our readers in these times when our lawmakers gripe they can't get enough to eat on a $30 a day stipend:
When pressing for or against legislation, do you think your opinion as a voter carries as much weight in your lawmaker's decision-making process as that of a lobbyist with bottomless pockets willing to spend more than that 30 bucks for a lawmaker's breakfast alone, not to mention lunch, dinner and bedtime toddy - and also to buy a table at every fund-raiser at a C-note per head?
If you know the answer, it's not a question.
Ah, good clean politics. The voice of the people prevails - or is it de-rails?
Change the locations, Washington to Annapolis, and the sage words of Lane Olinghouse are appropriate:
Lobbyists are people who go to Washington to mix business with pressure.
Or those of Oscar Ameringer:
Politics is the art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich by promising to protect each from the other.
And, let us not forget Ambrose Bierce who summed it up:
Politics is the conduct of public affairs for private advantage.
If you have been following the news from Annapolis of late, you get the gist. 1999 is the Year of the Lobbyist. Our role, yours and mine, is going down the tubes. The professional lobbyists rule in everything from dumping spoils into the Chesapeake to deregulation of electricity to HMO and other health issues.
We have only the vote. They have the clout, the cash and the brass. They go to Annapolis every winter and stay there for the duration of the session; we go to the voting booth only every other year, spend a few moments checking off names, then helplessly witness the hellish spectacle our decisions wreak.
The electorate has either a short memory or an inherent willingness to forgive, probably both, and each election sends, if not the same bunch of rascals back, at least carbon copies of them. Meanwhile, the lobbyists become more entrenched, also more adept and forceful at reminding legislators which side of the bread has the butter. As well as who buys that bread in the fancy restaurants and pubs of Annapolis.
On the Dole
Pity our poor representatives who find they cannot eat on $30 a day, thus see no reason why they shouldn't accept a free meal from a lobbyist, perhaps a time or two a day. Pity those of us who might think our voice carries as much weight as that of the lobbyist who picks up the tab.
That old saying there's no such thing as a free lunch doesn't apply to our legislators, and it's obvious they're hell bent on keeping it that way, which prompts another question:
How many Solons return to the state's treasury that portion of 30 bucks a day they don't spend for meals on days when breakfast was courtesy, via a lobbyist, of a union or other health care provider, lunch provided by a utility or industry and dinner by the banking or insurance lobby? If you guessed anything above zero, you're a candidate to buy a bridge in Brooklyn.
I see by the daily press, that without apology, Del. John S. Arnick, who chairs the subcommittee handling ethics reform, wants status quo - wants the right to be wined and dined by lobbyists - and not at a Wendy's.
Sun columnist Dan Rodericks writes that Arnick claims it's necessary because the 30 bucks legislators get as a daily food allowance doesn't fill their bellies. Sen. Mike Collins, who hails from Essex, echoes the argument.
Hey, didn't they read the fine print when they decided to run for office? It had to be somewhere in black and white, $30 a day, which incidentally is enough to buy 30 Big Macs when they're on special. And why shouldn't our Solons have to shop around for bargains as we do, seeing they're taxing us blind.
Mooching we don't mind, but we draw a line when the target of the moochers are the lobbyists who, between bites, argue for causes that we find unpalatable.
Come on, fellas, we draw the line somewhere. That's why we're rooting for the ethics reform bill, which obviously and sadly has as much chance as a Little League team has against the New York Yankees. That's hoping for miracles.
Our legislators, who make decisions on building stadiums with sky boxes for professional teams, want to keep that sacred right of receiving free ducats for games that you and I pay to see in sports castles we paid to build for rich owners. Give 'em bleacher seats, and charge 'em.
That's not all. Our legislators don't think there's anything wrong in soliciting funds from lobbyists for their special charities.
That's not nearly all. Now our legislators want to make optional an annual ethics counseling session proposed by a task force that drafted the original ethics bill!
Isn't there something wrong with this cozy arrangement between our legislators and their partisan patrons? Am I missing a point or so cold-hearted that I don't think those moochers of Maryland need three squares a day, three big squares?
Lobbyists, they come out of the woodwork. Even out of work release programs, as did former super lobbyist Bruce Bereano who was back in Annapolis - without any objections from our legislators, once again lobbying for his clients until the U.S. Probation Office said enough is enough.
Bereano was convicted in 1994 of seven counts of mail fraud for overbilling clients so he could make campaign contributions. Now the very same legislators who accepted Bereano back into the fold are trying to weasel out of mandatory ethics counseling.
Methinks our politicians might have a point in bragging they're taking crime off the streets. But they fail to mention they are bringing it into the State House - which reminds me of Benjamin Disraeli, who in only six words wrapped it up best:
In politics there is no honor.
Enough said ...