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Too close for comfort

An interesting threesome got together for lunch last fall at the Members Dining Room of the U.S. House of Representatives, reports the Wall Street Journal: - Rep. Sam Gibbons, of Tampa, second-ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. - James Farley, chairman of Mutual Life Insurance Co. of New York (MONY), which has a vested interest in changes Gibbons' committee may make in tax laws. (The committee is expected to consider increasing taxes on mutual life insurers by millions of dollars this year, according to the Journal.) - Gibbons' son, Clifford, a lobbyist for MONY and other clients who could be adversely affected by the committee's work.

The lunch, according to Rep. Gibbons, was set up by his son.

See anything wrong with a congressman's son, who represents firms with major interests in the work of his dad's committee, lobbying that committee and his dad personally?

Most people would. The conflict of interest is obvious.

But of the threesome, only one admits to the true nature of the situation: "There's nothing there. There's nothing I'm ashamed of," says Rep. Gibbons.

"I don't talk to him (dad) about my clients," says the younger Gibbons. There aren't "any appearances (of conflict) that I can see."

"To the extent that Cliff has contacts in the Washington area, and through his father by virtue of where he works, that's very important," a MONY spokeswoman told the Journal. "You use connections where you can get them."

The key person here is Rep. Gibbons. He is an honorable man, but as an elected official he has a responsibility to the public. His son's sin is taking improper advantage of his family ties.

But certainly Gibbons can be blamed for letting his son sell access to his office. A man of his experience and position should know better.

If he gives a hoot about his credibility, daddy Gibbons will close the door to his son the lobbyist.