The Senate's new lobbying reform legislation.

The Senate's new lobbying reform legislation.

The Senate's new lobbying reform legislation.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 30 2006 5:15 AM

Easybake Ethicism

The Washington Post, the New York Times, and USA Today lead with the Senate's 90-8 passage of a lobbying reform bill. The bill bans lobbyist gift-giving and makes earmarks more difficult, but critics contend the legislation is riddled with loopholes. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the U.N. Security Council's issuance of a unanimous—albeit temperate—statement urging Iran to shelve its nuclear program within 30 days. The Los Angeles Times stuffs the ethics reform and runs as its top non-local story the news that a recent study showed that a key avian flu vaccine didn't work on half the people inoculated.

In addition to the above restrictions, the bipartisan bill mandates broader disclosure of lobbyists' activities and says that former lawmakers must now wait for two years before they can lobby their former colleagues. An enthusiastic WSJ makes much of the requirement that disclosed data be stored in Internet databases, while the NYT, the LAT, and the Post focus instead on the legislation's failure to ban lobbyist-funded travel or to create an independent oversight office to investigate ethical lapses. The NYT and the LAT are the only ones to mention the bill's failure to address lobbyists' roles in campaign fund raising.

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Perhaps tellingly, some of Washington's most visible reformers, including Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russell Feingold, D-Wis., came out against the legislation, while advocacy groups blasted the bill as "window dressing." Will the bill have any real effect on how business gets done in DC? Read thisPost piece from a couple of weeks ago before you make up your mind.

As a corollary, everybody notes that disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff was sentenced to a little under six years in federal prison—the shortest term possible under law—for his role in a casino fraud scheme. Abramoff's unstinting cooperation with prosecutors was cited as one reason for the short sentence.

The Security Council's statement is non-binding and avoids language that could be construed as preliminary overtures toward sanctions. It's a weak victory for the U.S., which would have preferred the council to take stronger action yet had to consider the anti-sanctions policies of veto-holders Russia and China. Regardless of Iran's response to the statement, U.S. officials privately admit that it might take months for Russia and China to agree to some sort of punitive action.

One of the avian flu vaccines currently under testing requires a dosages up to 12 times stronger than a regular flu vaccine in order to actually work, and even then it works only half the time, the LAT reports. The absurdly high dosage level is a serious setback for the government's pandemic response plan, since manufacturing enough vaccine would prove nearly impossible given projected time constraints. The NYT's take on the story is decidedly less alarmist.

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The LAT fronts an extensively researched immigration piece that demonstrates how poor communication among federal agencies makes stopping illegal hiring practices extremely difficult. The story questions whether the immigration-reform legislation currently under debate in Congress will address the fact that "less than 1% of the money devoted to immigration enforcement is directed to crackdowns at the workplace."

The NYT reports that the inflammatory rhetoric surrounding the GOP's internal debate on immigration reform may well deprive the party of Hispanic votes. The real issue isn't so much the upcoming midterm elections as it is securing the long-term loyalty of the rapidly growing Hispanic population, which doesn't appreciate being demonized by America-firsties. Democrats such as Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., see an opportunity to "show Hispanics who their real friends are." Demonizing bad, patronizing good. Got it!

The NYT off-leads and everyone mentions that former Liberian strongman Charles Taylor, whose time as president was mostly spent fomenting civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone, was arrested after three years in Nigerian exile. Although new Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf would have preferred to leave Taylor alone for now, she was forced into action by U.S. pressure. Some fear that Taylor's arrest will imperil the Sirleaf administration by galvanizing Taylor's armed, unstable supporters into untoward action.

A former federal prosecutor was indicted on charges that he concealed evidence that would have helped the defense's case in a 2003 terrorism trial, the NYT and WP report. Richard Convertino initially won a conviction, but his actions ultimately led the government to dismiss the charges against four immigrants accused of operating a sleeper cell in Detroit. The WP calls the prosecutorial indictment "unprecedented in modern times," while the NYT blames Convertino's actions on hubris.

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The Zacarias Moussaoui sentencing trial went to the jury yesterday, everyone reports. Moussaoui's defense team did its best to undo the damage their client caused during his self-sabotaging testimony on Monday, claiming that the defendant "was trying to write a role for himself into history when the truth is, he was an al-Qaeda hanger-on and a nuisance to everybody."

The LAT fronts the last of a two-part investigation which found that, although scientists disagree on the toxicity of trichloroethylene, cancer rates in many towns rose significantly after the chemical leaked into its groundwater supply. TCE is used by industry and the military to degrease metal; a National Academy of Sciences report on the chemical's safety is due this summer.

The NYT's adding-insult-to-injury department reports that officials in the dictatorial paradise of Belarus plan to arrest and prosecute two of the losing candidates from last week's bogus presidental election on charges of march-holding and rabble-rousing. "It is personal revenge," said the wife of one of the candidates.

The NYT reports that former Sen. George Mitchell is expected to chair a Major League Baseball investigation into the game's steroids problem. Meanwhile, USAT fronts a thoughtful feature examining the racial undertones to the outcry against San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds.

In breaking news, American reporter Jill Carroll was released unharmed after having been kidnapped in Baghdad almost three months ago.

Let's Go See Silvio: The Journal fronts a rousing profile of Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister and gaffemaster who's facing a tough election in early April. The media tycoon and self-styled friend of the working man has courted controversy during his time in office, perhaps "because he has spent so much energy pushing laws to help himself avoid criminal charges from bribery to false bookkeeping." Not that it's all work and no play—on Saturdays he often vacations at a villa where "a personal musician is frequently on hand to play the guitar as Mr. Berlusconi sings songs of his own composition."