‘Drain The Swamp’? Barely. Washington Appears More Stuck In The Muck Than Ever
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Washington used to use one scandal at a time.
Not anymore. Here are just some of the scandals currently brewing:
The indictment of President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business partner, Rick Gates, in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible ties between your 2016 Trump campaign and Russia.
A good guilty plea from George Papadopoulos, a foreign-policy adviser on the marketing campaign. He admitted that he lied lying to Mueller’s investigators about his efforts to hook up with Russian authorities officials.
Fatal damage to the Podesta Group, one of Washington’s top lobby organizations, which appears, unnamed, on the Manafort-Gates indictment. Democratic lobbyist and fundraiser Tony Podesta – who co-founded the strong 29 years ago along with his brother, Democratic strategist John Podesta, who was simply Hillary Clinton’s marketing campaign chairman – declared he was leaving hours after the indictment became public.
The first criminal corruption trial in practically a decade against a U.S. senator, Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who’s right now awaiting a jury’s verdict.
Amid Capitol Hill’s frenetic quest for campaign money, an instant of candor by Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., who explained of the taxes overhaul expenses, “My donors are in essence saying, ‘Get it carried out or don’t ever contact me again.'”
It’s worse than any I’ve experienced in my three, almost four decades employed in this field. Those who are complying by the rules are competing for benefits against those that are cutting corners.”
It’s all a long way off from Trump’s times on the marketing campaign trail, when he regularly vowed to completely clean things up.
“If I am elected president, we will drain the swamp found in Washington, D.C.,” Trump said at a marketing campaign function in Chesapeake, Va., last October.
Actually, the swamp continues to be pretty swampy.
And some denizens claim it’s getting worse.
People seem to feel that “anything goes, and that it’s dumb to follow the rules,” long-time lobbyist Nick Allard told NPR.
Allard, right now the dean of Brooklyn Regulation School, called the D.C. ethical climate “worse than any I’ve experienced in my three, almost four decades employed in this field. Those who are complying by the rules are competing for benefits against those that are cutting corners.”
The indictment of Manafort and Gates spotlights one small slice of contemporary Washington. Among the costs, they happen to be accused of failing woefully to disclose lobbying actions for foreign clients, a violation of the Foreign Brokers Registration Action, or FARA.
The indictment says Manafort and Gates performed political consulting work, and Washington lobbying, for Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych, his political party and, ultimately, the Ukrainian government when Yanukovych became president.
The indictment says they expanded the effort by selecting the Podesta Group and another lobby firm to work for the Ukrainian clients through a nonprofit in Belgium.
It had been “a multi-million-dollar lobbying marketing campaign,” according to the indictment.
But none of the lobbyists – not Manafort, Gates, Podesta or workers of the other lobby organization – registered under FARA. Rather, there was a spate of retroactive registrations previously this year.
The law requires substantial disclosures, even detailed lists of lawmakers and staffers contacted by the lobbyists, and violating FARA is a felony. But enforcement is rare. Before Manafort and Gates had been indicted, the Justice Division had brought felony costs just seven times in the past half-century.
“The question that arises out from the Manafort situation is, is the period of complacency coming to a finish?” said regulation professor Steve Vladeck, coauthor of the Just Reliability blog. “Or is this just a special case brought by a particular counsel.”
The day after Manafort and Gates were indicted, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, introduced a bill to create FARA more stringent, more far-reaching and easier to enforce.
The Mueller investigation “just sort of puts a gray cloud around the whole lobbying-special interest community in D.C.,” explained David Rehr, a lobbyist-turned-professor at George Mason University regulation school. “It generally does not drain the swamp. But I think now people are just more nervous, and they are truly seeing a prosecutor seeking someone.”
Still, law enforcement would be just one step in a swamp-draining effort. Meredith McGehee, a veteran lobbyist on political reform issues, said Washington isn’t working right.
“We have dysfunction in Congress; we have dysfunction, I think, in the presidency; and we have dysfunction in the lobbying community,” she told NPR. “But that’s since the system, as we now have it structured, benefits dysfunction.”
She said just how Americans can transform that rewards system is to get engaged with politics.