Congress Uses Their Power to Enrich Themselves
The CBS news magazine, 60 Minutes, ran a piece this last weekend that should have every American outraged. Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Communists, and Socialists alike should be seething over the fact that Congress, as a whole, is bilking and fleecing taxpayers and campaign contributors alike for their own personal gain.
The government has become the playground of the rich, and those people often leave richer than they were when they started.
It’s not because of the paycheck. It isn’t because of books they’ve written, or the high profile committees they sit on.
It’s because of a thing called Leadership PACs.
Leadership PACs are political action committees that are established by both current and former members of Congress. With these PACs, they can accept money from businesses, individuals, and other PACs. They use this money to pay for travel expenses, re-election campaigns (their own, or other candidates), consultants and polling.
Everything seems to be on the up and up, right?
According to CBS, Congressional members also use that money to entertain, maybe some corporate bigwig, or a potential contributor, all paid for with this money.
These PACs came about after the Ethics Reform Act of 1989, and, according to CBS, Congressional leadership quietly created loopholes in the law to allow the establishment of Leadership PACs, because, again according to CBS, they are not “technically” campaign funds.
Nearly every Congressperson has one, and most of the money comes from lobbyists and special interest groups.
Back in the day, John Edwards used his PAC to pay his mistress over $100,000 to make a campaign video.
Republican Congressman Ander Crenshaw of Florida used his to fly bigwig contributors from the defense industry to California’s wine country for a tour.
Democrat Congressman Robert Andrews of New Jersey used his to fly his family to Scotland for the wedding of a friend he claimed he was thinking about hiring as a consultant. He is now under investigation. He claims the rules should be clearer as to what they can and can’t be used for, but CBS found that while almost every member of Congress pays lip service to that idea, no one lifts a finger to change it.
In fact, the CBS story goes on to say that members of Congress will hang on to these PACs, even after they have left office, for personal use, as long as they can make it look like a political expense, and just in case they decide to become lobbyists.
That’s right, about half of all Congresspeople who leave become lobbyists.
Even further, anti-nepotism laws prevent the hiring of family members on the official staff, but they can be hired on to the campaign staff, and be overpaid. This moves money from the PAC to the personal accounts.
Even Tea Party darling Ron Paul has taken advantage of this, hiring 6 members on his campaign payroll.
Senator David Vitter of Louisiana tried to introduce legislation to make it illegal to hire family members on campaign staffs and paying them with PAC money. He has yet to find a co-sponsor.
Democrat Congresswoman Grace Napolitano has made personal loans from her PAC to her campaign.
And charged the campaign 18% interest for the loan. She claims she has not benefitted from it personally, because she still drives a small car and has the same house. According to the LA Times, she made about $132,000 in interest over the 13 years of that loan ($228,000 over 12 years, according to CBS). When asked why she took so long to retire the debt, Napolitano said, “I didn’t need the money.” But she didn’t profit personally from it. She is one of the poorer members of Congress, being worth a maximum of just over $400k in 2011.
But she’s not the only one. CBS said that there have been at least 15 cases of Congresspersons making loans such as this.I agree with Steve Kroft. It isn’t the loan that’s disturbing, it is the exorbitant amount of interest charged.
So, if you are thinking about contributing to a candidate, think twice, because they may be using your contribution to go golfing so they can court a much bigger fish than you.
None of this is illegal, though. They use their power to make law to create loopholes for themselves. If you or I were to do something like this, it would be called fraud. Think about that.
You can see the whole piece here.
But it isn’t just the Leadership PACs. It is that they want the taxpayers to subsidize the healthcare for not just them, but their staffers as well. While members of Congress are our employees, their staffers are not. It should be up to the members of Congress, as their employers, to pay for their staffers health care.
And it doesn’t end there.
On April 4, 2012, Congress passed the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act (STOCK Act), and President Obama signed it into law.
The law was supposed to stop members of Congress from making stock and bond trades based on knowledge that they had that the general public did not. It was a form of legal insider trading. The STOCK Act abolished that.
That is, up until this last April, when Congress undid most of the law, restoring their ability (and the ability of the President) to act on nonpublic information. There was little announcement and no fanfare over the new (old) law. Once again, Congress has helped themselves, while leaving us poor slobs working in the mines.It was Republican Eric Cantor who pushed the bill through, using a procedure called Unanimous Consent, sometimes referred to as “deem & pass”. As long as no one present in the chamber objects, the bill is considered to be passed.
If you or I were to make stock trades based on information not available to the general public, we would be thrown in jail for securities fraud. But not so, Congress.
Just because something is legal does not make it right.
People complain that Republicans and Democrats are too often at odds with each other, and nothing gets done in Washington.
Plenty gets done when it impacts them. When the two sides start acting in a bipartisan manner, that’s when we should start to worry.
It is well past time for a 28th Amendment: Congress shall pas no law that applies to them and not the Citizenry, and Congress shall pass no law that applies to the Citizenry and not themselves.