Democrats Pledge to Raise Ethics; Experts Await Democrats taking over in Congress are promising a new era of commitment to higher ethical standards, including in their appropriation of funds and their relationships with lobbyists. But voters have heard such pledges before -- and advocates of cleaner government are eager to see the details.
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Democrats Pledge to Raise Ethics; Experts Await

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Democrats Pledge to Raise Ethics; Experts Await

Democrats Pledge to Raise Ethics; Experts Await

Democrats Pledge to Raise Ethics; Experts Await

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Democrats taking over in Congress are promising a new era of commitment to higher ethical standards, including in their appropriation of funds and their relationships with lobbyists. But voters have heard such pledges before — and advocates of cleaner government are eager to see the details.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

As NPR's Peter Overby reports living of to a slogan could be a lot harder than coining one.

PETER OVERBY: Democrats laid out a plan for honest leadership and open government. And emerging from the Democratic Caucus yesterday, speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi made the pledge again.

NANCY PELOSI: We will have a rules package that will hold this Congress to the highest ethical standards. We will break the link between lobbyists and legislators.

OVERBY: But that's a link that can be defined several different ways.

PAUL MILLER: You can't say it and then call us the next day and ask us for campaign contributions.

OVERBY: This is Paul Miller, a lobbyist and also president of the American League of Lobbyists. His one word description for the reform package - hypocritical.

MILLER: To my knowledge, Jack Abramoff didn't hold a gun to anybody's head and say take my gift, take my meals and come to my restaurant.

OVERBY: Mary Wilson of Albuquerque, president of the League Of Women Voters, says voters will notice whether the Democrats take ethics reform seriously or try to skate pass it.

MARY WILSON: They should be looking at doing this for their own protection.

OVERBY: But the reform effort has plenty of skeptics in and out of Washington. Julian Zelizer is a history professor at Boston University who's studied congressional ethics over the years. He says the Democrats could claim success if they just diminish the culture of corruption.

JULIAN ZELIZER: I don't think they're going to be able to ultimately end it. You know, a lot of this revolves around the tower of private money in politics. And as long as private money is still important to legislators for campaigns, lobbyists would still be important. And you know, bad things are going to happen.

OVERBY: Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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