Recent lobbying scandals involving Jack Abramoff and Representative Tom DeLay have created a much-needed impetus for legislative reform of the lobbying process. But the question cries out: Will Congress actually enact any of the multitude of reform proposals currently on the table, and if it does, will any of those reforms make a difference in how the lobbying process operates? History suggests that the answer is "no."
This Article examines the reasons for Congress's persistent failure to enact effective lobbying reform and posits that the primary cause is an underlying disjunct between legislators' and the public's views about the value of lobbying. Before effective lobbying reform can be achieved, a fundamental shift in the philosophy underlying lobbying regulation must take place. The basic problem with existing lobbying regulations-and with all of the reforms currently under consideration by Congress-is that they focus on disclosure by lobbyists alone, leaving the elected officials whom lobbyists target, and the interest groups behind the lobbyists, essentially unregulated. This Article advocates that lobbying regulations instead (1) should require disclosures by elected officials about official-lobbyist contacts and (2) should seek to capitalize on interest group competition for access to legislators as a method for disseminating lobbying disclosures to the voting public, and for generating more evenhanded political contact between elected officials and interests on different sides of an issue.
In this manner, lobbying regulations both could produce more substantively informative disclosures and could increase the likelihood that the voting public pays attention to such disclosures, while also creating an incentive for elected officials to increase their own exposure to differing viewpoints before rendering policy decisions. As a result, voter competence at the ballot box, as well as the quality of legislative outcomes, should improve.