Jan 29, 2009
WASHINGTON – The revelry of Washington Mardi Gras begins tonight at the Washington Hilton.
Physically, the Hilton is at the intersection of Connecticut and Florida avenues. Metaphysically, the Washington Mardi Gras is at the crossroads of what people like about Louisiana and what they don’t like about Washington, a long weekend bacchanal that unfolds in the twilight glow of good times and ethical questions.
For three days and nights, Washington lawmakers and lobbyists and Louisiana movers and shakers make merry – at a Thursday night party “free” to those fortunate enough to score a coveted wristband, at a $150-per-person Friday night dinner dance and at a $200-a-head Mystick Krewe of Louisianians Ball.
The Mystick Krewe, the governing authority of Washington Mardi Gras, decides who can buy tickets to the dinner and ball. Another group, Louisiana Alive!, run by Wayne Smith, a Washington lobbyist and former chief of staff to Louisiana Sen. John Breaux, distributes the wristbands to corporate sponsors, krewe members and congressional staff.
In a new age of ethical transparency, Mystick Krewe and Washington Alive!, both private organizations, are opaque. The Mystick Krewe was created by Sen. Russell Long in the 1950s to take over responsibility for Washington Mardi Gras. Its membership includes all the members of the Louisiana congressional delegation, who take turns chairing the annual event. This year the honor belongs to Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman.
For Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Washington Mardi Gras is Exhibit A of how ineffectual even tightened congressional ethics rules have proved to be. Especially problematic, she said, is tonight’s event. No one buys a ticket and yet they all enjoy a lavish party paid for with corporate money. The purpose, aside from having fun, according to Sloan, is to gain access and influence with members of Congress and especially their staffs.
That it is a Louisiana event is hardly surprising, she said.
“Louisiana is known for a little more relaxed idea of ethics,” Sloan said. “It’s definitely a party place.”
Even with Edwin Edward in prison and Bobby Jindal in the Governor’s Mansion, Louisiana seems disinclined to surrender that reputation. .
continued – citizens for ethics.org