A Lobbying Chill
by Barney Gimbel

(FORTUNE Magazine) - When does good old-fashioned lobbying become bribery? That's the question Congress and business leaders alike find themselves grappling with since the fall of Jack Abramoff, Washington's most notorious lobbyist. In the near term this much is certain: Congress will enact new laws to regulate influence peddling, and corporations will spend more time scrutinizing what their lobbyists are up to. "I've already been getting calls from clients asking more detailed questions about how we do our job," says veteran lobbyist Charles Manatt. That doesn't mean that companies will stop trying to get their opinions heard. "I get no sense that corporations are trying to reevaluate if they need a Washington office," says Michael Matton, who lobbies for Boeing. "But there is no doubt in my mind corporations are going to start looking at how they spend on lobbyists." In the past few weeks Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Eli Lilly signed on to guidelines proposed by the Center for Political Accountability, agreeing to disclose what politicians they finance and to provide board oversight of all soft-money political donations. Others will surely follow. In the long run, however, don't expect money to stop flowing inside the Beltway. "Any new laws Congress dreams up won't change the system," says another veteran lobbyist. "Look what happened after campaign finance reform. Nothing." Top of page