Diary of an Ethical Hack

Published: August 25, 2008

By Jim Lichtman
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It’s Sunday, and eighty-two degrees at the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi looks cool and relaxed quietly nursing a Corona at Panzano’s, the tony Italian eatery on 17th street.

Most of the patrons, Nancy included, keep glancing up at the 42-inch plasma above the bar watching the final Olympic ceremonies play out.  Party Chair Howard Dean walks by, grabs the clicker and switches to CNN where they’re replaying an Obama speech.  The room explodes into cheers.

In just a few, short hours the mile-high city will play host to every known (most unknown) democratic delegate as well as their staffers, media horde, oh and just a few corporate “sponsors.”

Of course, the biggest and best of the big-money donors are holed up at the Ritz-Carlton.  Among the “official providers”: A.T.&T, Cisco, Comcast, Dish Network, GM, Google, Microsoft, Qwest, United Airlines, and Verizon. If you’ve been to one swanky resort with 400-thread-count sheets, lap pool, indoor basketball court, and 6,800-square-foot spa, you’ve pretty much been to them all.

CNN is playing a clip of Obama criticizing the influence of money in politics. “[The lobbyists] have turned our government into a game only they can afford to play.”

Pelosi grabs the clicker and switches back to NBC’s Olympic coverage.

Wait a second, Nancy, hit the Tivo.

I thought the “landmark federal ethics measure” was passed last year to stop the flow of gifts to members of Congress?

“Gifts to individual congress members, yes,” Jennifer, a bright, young staffer reminds me.  “But we can have convention parties for several members at a time.  Come on, Jim,” she says, “don’t tell me you’re against the Party having a few parties?”

“Well,” I point out, “don’t you think it creates the appearanceof a conflict of interest?”

“Nancy and Howard have made it very clear,” she says, shaking her finger, “Absolutely no business will be discussed.  Oh, and only finger food.  No sit-down meals,” she adds.

She reaches inside a slim briefcase.  “See,” she points to a page in her pocket-edition of the new House Ethics Manuel.

I take a quick look-see through the manual.  “Oh, yeah, I see it here.”  I hand the book back.

“We take this new ethics stuff very seriously,” she says. “Now, I’ve got V.I.P. tickets to parties for Dick Durbin and Rahm Emanuel.”

“Wow,” I say.

“Which one would you like to go to, Jim?”  She smiles.

* * *

A Note of Transparency: Jim’s “On-the-scene/About-town” coverage takes place from the comfort of his home-office and internet access. However, other facts – about corporate sponsors, private parties held and House Ethics Rules – are all accurate.

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