Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Spoiling the pork barrel

Regular followers of NRN's blogs will know we've created a rogue's gallery of sorts to commemorate politicians' extraordinary contribution to the business. Unfortunately, the extent of that financial support has emerged in various investigations and court trials, where restaurant meals were cited as a means for lobbyists or influence-buyers to pay off the pols.

Our Top Customer remains Duke Cunningham, the former U.S. Representative from California who confessed to taking bribes, including some $10,000 in restaurant meals and lodging, the latter clearly not of the Motel 6 sort. But a dark horse is posing a challenge. Earlier this week, prosecutors in the trial of former Illinois governor George Ryan cited the politician’s use of $7,500 in campaign contributions at a Florida restaurant called Renato’s. There are rules about the diversion of electioneering funds for personal expenses. But Ryan’s lawyers have argued that there was a legitimate political objective to $4,500 in outlays at the Loew’s Vistana Canyon Resort in Arizona, or spending $5,200 at the Fountainbleau in Miami. Illinois business, to be sure.

And the trial still has a long way to go.

Of course, there is a very serious business side to this, as well as the galling defiance of morals and ethics. The federal government and any number of states are now looking at curbs on lobbyists’ expenditures for meals, which could add up to a significant sum in state capitals from coast to coast. It’s a shame that restaurateurs are likely to be hurt twice by some politicians’ excess—-first as voters, then as business people.

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