Culture of corruption knows no party boundaries

Great piece in the Washington Post by Marcus Stern and Jennifer LaFleur about a loophole in campaign finance and ethics laws that make it possible for lobbyists, union bosses, corporate big shots, and other well heeled citizens to worm their way into the good graces of members of congress and get special consideration when legislation is written.

If a congressman wants to go junketing to the really nice vacation spots of the world, he must pay for it himself. Gone are the days when lobbyists can pay for visits to famous golf courses, or spectacular beaches where the member is put up in luxury and wants for nothing, right?

Wrong. Those days are still with us. Only the lobbyists don't pay for these goodies directly. They pay into the member's "Leadership Fund" - a political action committee that allows congressman to tap into for expenses related to promoting themselves within Congress.

Ostensibly, the monies collected in these "Leadereship PAC's" should go to other members' campaigns. Potential presidential candidates have used Leadership PAC's to build up favors so that when it came time to support a presidential candidate, such a member would have an inside track.

But the rules are incredibly loose and realistically, the member can spend the money on almost anything as long as it's not his own campaign. With this kind of loophole, lobbyists and others have stepped in and now contribute to these funds while the member will use those funds for his personal piggy bank.

It used to be only a handful of members had these PAC's. Now, 70% of Congress have them and lobbyists contribute to them to the tune of $355 million.

What separates leadership PACs from campaign committees is that lawmakers are supposed to pass along the bulk of the money to other members of their party for their campaigns. That way, lawmakers with leadership PACs can earn their beneficiaries' support when it comes time to divvy up committee chairmanships and other party leadership posts.

But of the $112 million that leadership PACs spent during the two-year campaign cycle that led up to the 2008 elections, less than half was passed on to candidates or party committees, according to a ProPublica analysis of Federal Election Commission data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The rest paid for entertainment, administrative costs, fundraising and other categories that are so vague that it's impossible to know for sure how the money was spent.

Leadership PACs have paid for visits to Churchill Downs, Disney World and the Country Music Hall of Fame. They've paid for funerals, flowers and farewell parties. Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) used $64,500 from his PAC to commission a portrait of himself. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid of Nevada used more than $57,000 from his PAC to entertain at Las Vegas casinos. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) spent more than $47,000 from his PAC on New York Yankees and New York Giants tickets.

All this is legal, even if it appears to make a mockery of the 2007 ethics reforms and the contribution limits at the very heart of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971.

Rangel paying $64,500 for a portrait of himself? While that sounds exactly like something Rangel would do, it points up something that people who have studied campaign finance "reform" know all too well; for every loophole closed, 2 more open up. The more complex the body of law built up around campaign finance reform, the richer lawyers who are experts in that law get. Finding and exploiting loopholes is a lucrative business and as long as "reformers" insist that just one more bill, one more effort to limit the influence of money in politics, will do the trick, the culture of corruption on the Hill will triumph.

This kind of venal, grasping, greedy behavior is not limited to one party. It is endemic - a disease that has infected so many inside the beltway that those who refuse their share of the goodies are the exception rather than the rule. No doubt they will eventually get around to closing this loophole - only to find a few months later another opportunity to skirt the law open up and allow members to continue living high off the hog while undermining the democracy they have sworn to nurture and protect.

Hat Tip: Ed Lasky






Great piece in the Washington Post by Marcus Stern and Jennifer LaFleur about a loophole in campaign finance and ethics laws that make it possible for lobbyists, union bosses, corporate big shots, and other well heeled citizens to worm their way into the good graces of members of congress and get special consideration when legislation is written.

If a congressman wants to go junketing to the really nice vacation spots of the world, he must pay for it himself. Gone are the days when lobbyists can pay for visits to famous golf courses, or spectacular beaches where the member is put up in luxury and wants for nothing, right?

Wrong. Those days are still with us. Only the lobbyists don't pay for these goodies directly. They pay into the member's "Leadership Fund" - a political action committee that allows congressman to tap into for expenses related to promoting themselves within Congress.

Ostensibly, the monies collected in these "Leadereship PAC's" should go to other members' campaigns. Potential presidential candidates have used Leadership PAC's to build up favors so that when it came time to support a presidential candidate, such a member would have an inside track.

But the rules are incredibly loose and realistically, the member can spend the money on almost anything as long as it's not his own campaign. With this kind of loophole, lobbyists and others have stepped in and now contribute to these funds while the member will use those funds for his personal piggy bank.

It used to be only a handful of members had these PAC's. Now, 70% of Congress have them and lobbyists contribute to them to the tune of $355 million.

What separates leadership PACs from campaign committees is that lawmakers are supposed to pass along the bulk of the money to other members of their party for their campaigns. That way, lawmakers with leadership PACs can earn their beneficiaries' support when it comes time to divvy up committee chairmanships and other party leadership posts.

But of the $112 million that leadership PACs spent during the two-year campaign cycle that led up to the 2008 elections, less than half was passed on to candidates or party committees, according to a ProPublica analysis of Federal Election Commission data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The rest paid for entertainment, administrative costs, fundraising and other categories that are so vague that it's impossible to know for sure how the money was spent.

Leadership PACs have paid for visits to Churchill Downs, Disney World and the Country Music Hall of Fame. They've paid for funerals, flowers and farewell parties. Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) used $64,500 from his PAC to commission a portrait of himself. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid of Nevada used more than $57,000 from his PAC to entertain at Las Vegas casinos. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) spent more than $47,000 from his PAC on New York Yankees and New York Giants tickets.

All this is legal, even if it appears to make a mockery of the 2007 ethics reforms and the contribution limits at the very heart of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971.

Rangel paying $64,500 for a portrait of himself? While that sounds exactly like something Rangel would do, it points up something that people who have studied campaign finance "reform" know all too well; for every loophole closed, 2 more open up. The more complex the body of law built up around campaign finance reform, the richer lawyers who are experts in that law get. Finding and exploiting loopholes is a lucrative business and as long as "reformers" insist that just one more bill, one more effort to limit the influence of money in politics, will do the trick, the culture of corruption on the Hill will triumph.

This kind of venal, grasping, greedy behavior is not limited to one party. It is endemic - a disease that has infected so many inside the beltway that those who refuse their share of the goodies are the exception rather than the rule. No doubt they will eventually get around to closing this loophole - only to find a few months later another opportunity to skirt the law open up and allow members to continue living high off the hog while undermining the democracy they have sworn to nurture and protect.

Hat Tip: Ed Lasky