Posted by Jack Lee with comments
Here’s a story that’s enough to make you never want to vote again, but you really need to read it, even if it makes you angry. Members of Congress routinely use a form of political action committees to convert campaign cash into lavish lifestyle upgrades for themselves and their family members. Given their lengthy history for corruption this end run around the campaign finance laws should come as no surprise. But, it begs one question, why should we support either party after this?
“60 Minutes” exposed the racket in a Sunday night report, produced with Hoover Institution scholar Peter Schweizer. Though funds from “leadership PACs” are supposed to go to help elect fellow members of one’s own political party, lax campaign laws allow lawmakers to turn their accounts into private slush funds to fund just about anything. (Want to watch the video on this? Warning there are commercials Click here.)
The story by “60 Minutes” correspondent Steve Kroft contained selected materials from Schweizer’s forthcoming book Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets.
This is a bipartisan scam, according to the “60 Minutes” piece. Consider the case of Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). His leadership PAC dropped $107,752 at the Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Fla. during the 2012 election cycle. That is over three times as much money as he gave the National Republican Senatorial Committee to get fellow Republicans elected. One year, Chambliss spent nearly one-third of his entire leadership PAC funds on golf, limos, and at least one private jet ride. His leadership PAC also picked up a $26,814 dinner tab at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and $10,344 at Pebble Beach.
Then there’s Rep. Rob Andrew (D-N.J.). He tapped his wife, a lawyer and an associate law dean at Rutgers School of Law-Camden, to be a PAC compliance officer for his leadership PAC. She approved the use of donor dollars to fly her, Rep. Andrews, and their two daughters to Edinburgh, Scotland for a wedding at a posh resort. Andrews’s leadership PAC paid $16,575 in airfare. His campaign committee picked up the rest of the tab, which was slightly under $14,000.
Schweizer says Andrews’s leadership PAC even paid for the wedding gift, which was china from Bloomingdale’s. Andrews and his wife even merged a campaign event with their daughter’s graduation party, allowing them to combine the costs of the two events, even though the PAC did not pick up the entire bill. “Look, they’re not having leadership PAC meetings at the Hampton Inn down the road. They’re going to the premier golfing and resorts in the United States and in– sometimes around the world. And that’s ostensibly where they’re doing this leadership PAC work.”
What you see more often is that members will keep the leadership PAC and they will use it in retirement for everything that is vaguely a political expense. If they become a lobbyist, which about half of members who leave Congress do nowadays, that becomes their lobbying slush fund. So it just keeps going, at least until death and in some cases even beyond death.
When Republican Congressman Paul Gillmor of Ohio died suddenly from a heart attack in 2007, his staff decided that no political contribution should go unspent.
Former Federal Elections Commissioner Potter reported, “What we know is that the staff went off to a number of dinners and pizza parties and other events using the leadership PAC money. What they said was, ‘Well, it’s a grieving process. And also, we need to talk to each other about getting new jobs, and this is a way to do it.’
Leadership PACs are a political slush fund. Over time, we’ve had them. They’ve been outlawed. They spring back in new guises, and this is the latest guise.
Melanie Sloan is the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a small group that tracks campaign expenditures. As we said earlier it’s against the law to use campaign funds for personal use, but Sloan says it’s perfectly acceptable to use campaign funds to hire your wife, husband, children, grandchildren and in-laws.
CREW’s Most Corrupt Members of Congress
Melanie Sloan: While there are anti-nepotism rules that prevent them from hiring their family members on the official staff– they can indeed hire them on the campaign payroll. And do.
Steve Kroft: And they do?
Melanie Sloan: And they do.
Sloan says there are at least 75 members of Congress who have hired members of their family to work on their campaign and paid them with political contributions.
Until Republican Congressman Ron Paul of Texas retired last year he seemed to be the leader with six family members on the campaign payroll — daughter, daughter’s mother in-law, three grandchildren and a grandchild in-law. Paying them a total of $304,000 over the past two election cycles.
But Paul only ranked third in total payouts to family members — behind former Republican Congressman Jerry Lewis and Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters both of California.
Steve Kroft: For some congressmen and senators, this is sort of a family business.
Melanie Sloan: Absolutely. It is a family business. They have members of their family on the campaign payroll. And they also will often have members of their family who are lobbyists and lobby on issues in which the member may even be working.
We were interested in talking to Republican Congressman Rodney Alexander who had just retired midterm, after winning a campaign with no Democratic opposition last year. A race in which he paid his two daughters a total of $130,000.
There’s a reason why Congressmen go in with modest means and come out rich. Read on…
Sloan says another way congressmen can personally benefit from the use of political contributions is by making personal loans to their campaign funds, then charging above market and sometimes exorbitant interest rates. Sloan’s organization found at least 15 cases, with the worst offender being Democratic Congresswoman Grace Napolitano who charged her campaign 18 percent.
Steve Kroft: How much money did she loan her campaign?
Melanie Sloan: She loaned herself $150,000 and over a 12-year period took in $228,000 in interest. She didn’t see anything wrong with this, and explained that as a Hispanic women she couldn’t get a bank load (BS) and so she had to loan herself the money “and bank’s charge interest.” she said. She doesn’t get it because she doesn’t want to get it.
Peter Schweizer: We hear a lot about how there’s so much partisan fighting in Washington, Steve. Here’s a great example of bipartisanship. Both sides like this current system.
Here’s the bottom line: All you need to see is Rep Vitter’s effort to change this can’t get even one co-sponsor. Did you hear me? Let me say that again loud and clear…he could not get one co-sponsor!
Sadly, just when you think you’ve found an honest man you discover that he’s not without sin either, in 2009 Vitter was caught up in the D.C. Madame’s scandal. He later apologized for his bad judgment and alleged criminal misconduct and said he made peace with his wife…he was forgiven by the voters and he was reelected. However, his sexual misconduct should be no less forgivable than former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s, just because he’s a conservative. The people have every right to expect elected representatives to set a high standard for ethics and keep their private life unsullied, if they can’t – they shouldn’t hold office.
I’ve long held that we need campaign finance reform to our representatives away from temptation and in CA I helped get Prop 208 (major campaign finance reform) on the ballot. It passed by huge numbers and this could only be seen as a mandate by the people for change. So how did the two big political parties react? They sued this new law to death. Then they returned to business as usual. No reform bills, a totally indifferent attitude toward the will of the people.
Our government has ceased being for the people. A group with the ethics of the mob is running Congress and we can’t expect mobsters to reform themselves.
Look what happened when they tried to pass the Stock Act which stopped letting these guys get rich off of insider trading. They refused to do it. The corruption on both sides is disgusting. Look at that idiot from Texas who APOLOGIZED TO BP for the harsh treatment they were receiving after the oil spill. And look at our own Dianne Feinstein, whose husband is gobbling up post offices for a song and selling them for millions. The same “liberal” Dianne Feinsteine who is a huge defender of the NSA the biggest waste of taxpayer money ever, and one taxpayers did not approve or ask for. She is supposed to represent what California wants, and nobody in California wants the NSA, no matter if they are liberal or conservative.
“When Republican Congressman Paul Gillmor of Ohio died suddenly from a heart attack in 2007…”
This man lead by example and I sure wish the rest of our politicians would follow his example. It’s the most honorable thing our scum politicians could do.
This is not new news, but as many, including myself have noted, we the voters are as much to blame for putting the the problem back in office term after term, as the Elected are for figuring out how to use us voters verse serving us.
If the elected will not vote on a term limit, then the voters need to just step up and move on to support the next in line, and sometimes that means across the isle.
We will lose some that benefited voters, but we’ll get rid of corrupt ones much more frequently, and way faster than just waiting for them to cash out their lifelong lottery ticket to a pot of gold.
The other sad part of the problem is they draw a salary for life, that needs to be addressed and changed. There is no where in the public sector that you get that much for so little time spent on the job. Wake up America!
Harold good points!
I would caution only on one point. We must watch for deceivers in any candidate we consider. Radical socialists are likely committed to the Alinsky method and as such are willing to deceive to win power. Once elected they climb on board the scorch and burn method to kill opponents and legislation that goes against the radical socialist agenda. The Democrat Party has been taken over by such radicals.
A squishy Democrat or Republican is still better than a deceptive radical.
The New York Times had an excellent piece today talking about legislative extortion
From the article: Consider this: of the thousands of bills introduced in Congress each year, only roughly 5 percent become law. Why do legislators bother proposing so many bills? What if many of those bills are written not to be passed but to pressure people into forking over cash?
This is exactly what is happening. Politicians have developed a dizzying array of legislative tactics to bring in money.
Take the maneuver known inside the Beltway as the “tollbooth.” Here the speaker of the House or a powerful committee chairperson will create a procedural obstruction or postponement on the eve of an important vote. Campaign contributions are then implicitly solicited. If the tribute offered by those in favor of the bill’s passage is too small (or if the money from opponents is sufficiently high), the bill is delayed and does not proceed down the legislative highway.
This country is sounding more and more like a third world Banana Republic every year
J.J., Jr., and the Missus, actually got convicted, if you can believe it! (Never happen to a white boy.)
But it does happen. The system does work, more or less. If you’re waiting around for sterling virtue in your politicians, you’re gonna have a long, long, long wait.
“The same “liberal” Dianne Feinstein ….”
Just so you know, Dianne lost her “liberal” label years and years ago. She never had progressive creds. She’s been a Repug in drag for as long as I can remember … but she makes all the proper noises, and we just can’t get rid of her.
Libby” “(Never happen to a white boy.)”
Not true! (Does fit that race bias you sport)
See here and here.
The biggest problem is that not everything that we find repugnant is illegal.
The character of the men we send to DC is a reflection of the character of the country. Are we serious about these matters? We had better be serious about the state of society as a whole. And we had better learn to hold our representatives to a higher standard.
This is all our fault. We did not watch close enough. referring to a comment it is both parties.
There are only a handful of elected left who are not on the take.
Citizens United why does the Tea Party not join us Independents to repeal it. It would be a step in the right direction. SCOTUS is looking at a case that will expand Citizens United right now.
Anyone not see foreign money was injected into our elections and that is how we will loose America if we do not stop it?
The banks own the Senate and the Koch’s, Pope. Adelson types have the House.
Congress Inside trades Mr cantor gutted the original bill and now I believe it is gone. Congress should have to post their capital gains online for all to see. Ya wanna hear them all squeal like pigs? Just demand that!
How safe does one feel to know Congress makes money hedging against America?