For Adam and Eve, it was a serpent, a fruit, and a promise: "Ye shall be as gods." For members of Congress, it is a lobbyist, a free trip, and a promise: "We will treat you as gods." Since the beginning of time there has been temptation followed by a fall, so we should not be surprised to know that it continues today. Zsa Zsa Gabor famously said, "I can resist anything but temptation!" The same might be said of some members of Congress.
If Adam and Eve could be so easily compromised despite their intimacy with God and their residence in paradise, what chance does a Senator or Representative have? On Capitol Hill, "serpents" are everywhere, tempting our elected officials to put personal gain above the public good. Of course, not all lobbyists are serpents—lobbying can be a perfectly honorable job. Few Americans have the time or money to travel to DC and personally speak to members of Congress about issues that are important to them. Therefore, non-profit organizations and businesses routinely hire lobbyists on their behalf. These lobbyists are able to present legislators with information and arguments that help them see an issue from a variety of perspectives.
When a lobbyist successfully persuades a legislator to come around to his point of view, one would hope that it was due to sound reasoning and compelling advocacy. Luxurious dinners, expensive gifts, and all-expense-paid trips have nothing to do with persuasive arguments, they are merely temptations. The message they convey is, "Vote as we want you to vote, obtain funds for our business or cause, and life will be good for you."
Where is the public interest in this transaction? When elected officials live the good life in exchange for lobbyist "perks", taxpayer dollars are wasted and bad legislation is enacted. Voters do not send representatives to eat, drink and be merry on our behalf. We send them to work on our behalf. But when temptation enters the mix, many lawmakers fall prey.
Now, however, perhaps there is hope. The new Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has promised to pass strict House rules that will reduce the temptations that legislators face. As I have said before, this should be a bipartisan effort. When it comes to corruption, it is not Democrats against Republicans, it is the common good versus special interests and selfish politicians.