| A Growing Wariness About Money in Politics
By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 29, 2005; A01
For several years now, corporations and other wealthy interests have made ever-larger campaign contributions, gifts and sponsored trips part of the culture of Capitol Hill. But now, with fresh guilty pleas by a lawmaker and a public relations executive, federal prosecutors -- and perhaps average voters -- may be concluding that the commingling of money and politics has gone too far.
After years in which big-dollar dealings have come to dominate the interaction between lobbyists and lawmakers, both sides are now facing what could be a wave of prosecutions in the courts and an uprising at the ballot box. Extreme examples of the new business-as-usual are no longer tolerated.
Republicans, who control the White House and Congress, are most vulnerable to this wave. But pollsters say that voters think less of both political parties the more prominent the issue of corruption in Washington becomes, and that incumbents generally could feel the heat of citizen outrage if the two latest guilty pleas multiply in coming months.
No fewer than seven lawmakers, including a Democrat, have been indicted, have pleaded guilty or are under investigation for improper conduct such as conspiracy, securities fraud and improper campaign donations. Congress's approval ratings have fallen off the table, in some measure because of headlines about these scandals.
"The indictments and the investigations have strengthened the feeling that people have that in fact there's too much money in Washington and that the money is being used to influence official decisions," said William McInturff, a Republican pollster with Public Opinion Strategies. "Polls show that neither party is held in high regard."
The latest court case came yesterday in San Diego when Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) wept openly after pleading guilty to tax evasion and conspiracy. His plea bargain came less than a week after public relations executive Michael Scanlon coolly admitted his role in a conspiracy to try to bribe a congressman.
Members of Congress, lawyers and pollsters recognize that both events taken together could signal the start of a cyclical ritual in the nation's capital: the moment when lawmakers and outsiders are widely seen as getting too cozy with each other and face a public backlash -- and legal repercussions -- as a result....
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