Freddoso: Barney Frank’s example could aid whichever party accepts practice 

When one of his staffers recently announced that he was leaving to lobby for the financial industry, House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., took the unusual step of criticizing him and removing him from all committee business. He also told the staffer not to darken his committee’s door as long as he remains chairman.

We praised Frank in these pages for diminishing the influence of big business on government. Unfortunately, our enthusiasm was not shared by Democrats and Republicans. We called all of them to see if they would adopt this “Frank Rule.” Number of responses: zero.

Last week, I had the opportunity to ask House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, whether he would consider such a policy in the event that Republicans retake the majority this year.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ll take a look at it.”

Republicans see a congressional majority within reach, in part because of an anti-incumbent mood shared by voters who might not normally vote Republican. The GOP took advantage of a similar situation in 1994. Taking advantage of President Bill Clinton’s overreach, they accompanied their standard platform with promises to end abusive congressional practices. They won, and the following year they enacted the first truly effective transparency requirements for lobbyists.

Democrats returned to power in 2006, campaigning against a Republican “culture of corruption.” They won and followed up with a 2007 law that improved that transparency.

The Frank Rule, as a campaign promise, might be just the right peace offering for voters, angry as they are at the crooked and opaque legislative process they watched unfold during the health care debate.

When congressional employees “cash out” and enter the lucrative world of lobbying, they don’t just change jobs, they make you wonder. Can the job-seeking part of anyone’s brain be completely separate from the part that drafts legislation?

On Capitol Hill, there is no stigma attached to such behavior. But there would be if more lawmakers followed Frank’s example. K Street’s incentive to hire them would diminish, and money would have to find a less direct channel to power that involves less corruption of those who actually write laws.

Frank’s fellow Democrats should look closely at what he has done, if they want to keep their majority. So should Republicans, if they want to take it away. Voters are upset at what they see right now, and they are likely to reward anyone who promises to change it.

Columnist David Freddoso is The Washington Examiner’s online opinion editor.


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