Monday, November 07, 2005

The Real Cost

A recent Tribune article explored conflicts of interest in one of America’s most sensitive public positions: restaurant critics. It seems some of our nation’s most prominent arbiters of fine dining accept free meals and other gratuities from the same restaurants they review and rave about. “The people who suffer are the readers,” said one journalism professor. “If they didn’t have to pay for the meal, you can’t be sure the reviewers’ loyalties truly lie with the reader.”

We couldn’t have said it better. And the same holds true in politics. When lobbyists put on the full-court press, with meals, gifts, trips, and campaign contributions, voters had better make sure that their public representatives are still representing the public. That’s why disclosure is so important – it lets voters know where to look for conflicts. And it’s also why every other state in America has some restrictions on campaign giving to candidates. Most limit giving across the board. Some also bar giving by regulated industries, state contractors, corporations and unions.

So when a lobbyist says to a public official, “I read about a great new restaurant; howzabout I buy you dinner?”, everybody had better pay attention.