UPDATE: The ethics bill comes back from the dead in the Senate. The most important thing in this bill is the additional disclosure requirements that it puts on lobbyists and lawmakers, which will make it much harder for them to do favors for each other without anyone knowing about it.
Does this mean Congress will be squeaky clean from here on out? The history of ethics reform is lather-rinse-repeat. Reforms work for a while, until politicians find a way around them. And often, the seeds of the next scandal are sown in the effort to clean up the last one. The classic example is campaign finance reform: In answer to the abuses of Watergate, Congress established PACs, which became their own Culture of Corruption. So they clamped down on them, which led to huge increases in “soft money.” So they got rid of soft money in McCain-Feingold, which sent the money into 527s. The result is, there’s more money in politics than ever, and it’s harder to trace.
UPDATE UPDATE: In comments, AlphaLiberal makes a good point:
Well, it was pretty hard to trace when donations were made in brown paper sacks. Now we have campaign finances reported and analyzed online.
So, “I’m just going to have to go ahead and disagree with you there.”
But I can’t see where ideologically driven 527s, especially when they work in concert with affiliated 501 (c) 4s (which don’t have to disclose their donors), are much of an improvement on the political hackery of soft money. I do agree that online reporting is a real step forward–though to really work, it should have to be done in real time, not weeks and months after the fact, when the damage has already been done.