One of the ironies of the United States legal system is that the people who make the laws of the land are exempt from some of them. It is an irony that is getting increasing attention, thanks in part to Lyn Nofziger, who was convicted last week of lobbying the White House in violation of the Ethics in Government Act. ``It's a lousy law,'' said Mr. Nofziger after his conviction. ``It's a law that doesn't apply to the Congress of the United States. ... All men are not equal under that law.''
This week Sen. Strom Thurmond (R) of South Carolina is introducing a bill to force ex-legislators to wait a period of time before lobbying in the Capitol. The House may consider two similar bills in coming months.
Under present conditions, many ex-congressmen barely leave office before they begin lobbying their former colleagues for various clients. For example, weeks after Rep. Don Fuqua (D) of Florida left office in 1986, he began knocking on doors in behalf of the Aerospace Industries Association of America Inc. He knew which doors to knock, since he had served as chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee and advisory member of the National Commission on Space.
The law governing lobbying is not an exception to the rule. From privacy and employment discrimination to work place safety and lobbying, Congress has exempted itself from laws that others have to follow.
There have been sporadic attempts to put Congress under the same rules as the rest of the country. As most of those have failed, the lawmakers have set up some voluntary standards to police themselves. Now, with the publicity over the Nofzinger and Michael Deaver cases, it looks as if Congress may strip itself of a few exemptions.
``We should be covered,'' says Rep. Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Administrative Law and Government Relations. ``The reasons that apply to other people also apply to us.''