Joe Barton And Bernie Sanders Are Both Members Of Congress But They're As Different As Night And Day
Do you remember when a Texas congressman apologized to BP over the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf that did so much damage to the economies of the Gulf states? It was Joe Barton, who's been representing a landlocked suburban and rural district between Dallas and Ft Worth since 1985. His exact words, addressed to the ceo of BP at a congressional hearing: "I apologize. I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong, is subject to some sort of political pressure that is, again, in my words-- amounts to a shakedown, so I apologize." Even Republicans were so embarrassed by Barton that he lost his leadership role on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. That was the main reason he lost the committee chairmanship anyway. His blatant corruption was too much even for Republican congressmen, who rarely shy away from that sort of thing. He had been misrepresenting shady natural gas investments on his disclosure forms. And last year he made it into CREW's report on Congress' most corrupt members, stemming, they report "from misusing his position for personal financial benefit and failing to properly report a transaction on his financial disclosure forms.
In April 2008, Rep. Barton, then the ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, bought an interest in natural gas wells. The congressman paid between $15,000 and $50,000, and earned an estimated $80,000 that year from the investment. Since 2009, Rep. Barton has earned between $10,002 and $30,000 in royalty payments from the wells.
On his 2008 personal financial disclosure forms, Rep. Barton reported buying his interests in the wells from EOG Resources, Inc., a natural gas producer that oversaw operations of the wells and owned a majority share. In 2010, however, the Dallas Morning News found land records listing the actual seller as late businessman Walter Mize. Mr. Mize, who died in 2008, and his wife were longtime donors to Rep. Barton’s campaigns, contributing more than $35,000 to his campaign committee and political action committee since 1985. In addition, Mr. Mize had advised Rep. Barton on energy policy. Rep. Barton publicly acknowledged Mr. Mize’s role in suggesting a $500 million federally funded grant program for oil and gas research, legislation pushed by Rep. Barton while he served as chairman of the energy committee.
Rep. Barton has not publicly addressed Mr. Mize’s role in his purchase of the wells, or explained why he reported the seller incorrectly on his financial disclosure statement. Instead, he told a reporter he acquired his interest after he “read something about” opportunities in natural gas wells. “I was aware of this one, and I decided to invest in this one as opposed to some others,” he said. Rep. Barton said he paid fair market value for his interest in the wells and assumed the same amount of risk as any other partner in the investment, which has proven lucrative. Rep. Barton’s personal financial disclosure forms for the past three years show the wells have brought in more income than any of his other investments. He credited “luck” that the investment has paid out, and said he had reported it in accordance with federal law and ethics rules. Rep. Barton has not, however, amended his financial disclosure form to correctly report Mr. Mize as the seller in the transaction.
The natural gas interest meant Rep. Barton, the senior Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was positioned to benefit from increased production of domestic natural gas even as he co-sponsored legislation that would have increased demand. For instance, he supported government subsidies to convert vehicles to run on natural gas rather than gasoline or diesel fuel."
The Ethics in Government Act of 1967 requires all members of Congress to file financial disclosure reports. Under the statute, the attorney general may seek a civil penalty of up to $11,000 against any individual who knowingly and willfully falsifies or fails to file or report any information required by the Act. House Rule 26 incorporates the financial disclosure provisions of the Ethics in Government Act.
Federal law further prohibits members of Congress from making “any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation” on “a document required by law, rule, or regulation to be submitted to the Congress or any office or officer within the legislative branch.” On financial disclosure forms, members of Congress are required to provide “the complete name of the asset for which a reportable transaction has occurred.”
By affirmatively misrepresenting the seller of the interests in the natural gas wells, Rep. Barton likely made a false statement. Rep. Barton also failed to correct this false statement even after it became public that his campaign contributor, Mr. Mize, was the actual seller in the transaction.
Members of the House are prohibited from “taking any official actions for the prospect of personal gain for themselves or anyone else.” House members are directed to adhere to 5 C.F.R. § 2635.702(a), issued by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics for the Executive Branch, which provides:An employee shall not use or permit use of his Government position or title or any authority associated with his public office in a manner that is intended to coerce or induce another person... to provide any benefit, financial or otherwise, to himself or to friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity.
If Rep. Barton took any official action, including supporting or sponsoring legislation, for the personal benefit of his natural gas interests, he may have violated this provision.
House Rule 23 requires all members of the House to conduct themselves “at all times in a manner that reflects creditably on the House.” This ethics standard is considered to be “the most comprehensive provision” of the code. When this section was first adopted, the Select Committee on Standards of Official Conduct of the 90th Congress noted it was included within the Code to deal with “flagrant” violations of the law that reflect on “Congress as a whole,” and that might otherwise go unpunished. This rule has been relied on by the committee in numerous prior cases in which the committee found unethical conduct including: the failure to report campaign contributions, making false statements to the committee, criminal convictions for bribery, or accepting illegal gratuities, and accepting gifts from persons with interest in legislation in violation of the gift rule.
By affirmatively misrepresenting the seller of the interests in the natural gas wells and failing to correct this false statement, Rep. Barton acted in a manner that brings discredit to the House. In addition, if Rep. Barton took any official action to provide himself a personal benefit by appreciation of his natural gas interests, he acted in a manner that brings discredit to the House.
Here's the definitive list of the 20 Members of Congress who have taken the most in [legalistic] bribes from energy and natural resources industries since 1990. No other congressman has crossed the $3 million mark, not even Boehner. And the current chairman of House Energy and Commerce, Fred Upton is a long way from scarfing up even half of the bribes Barton has taken.
I hope his Democratic opponent, Ken Sanders, knows how to use this information in the campaign. In 2010 Barton was reelected with 66% of the vote-- and even in a Democratic swing year like 2008, Barton won with 62%. All that said, it's just background for a commonsense proposal by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to end taxpayer subsidies to Big Oil.
The way it works now is that DC politicians like Barton take billions from the taxpayers and transfer it to Big Oil companies, which then kick back a hefty portion to... DC politicians like Barton. Bernie:
At a time when we have a record debt, Congress should not continue to give away taxpayer money to the fossil fuel industry.
• Fossil fuels are subsidized at nearly 6 times the rate of renewable energy. From 2002 to 2008, the US Government gave the mature fossil fuel industry over $72 billion in subsidies, while investments in the emerging renewable industry totaled $12.2 billion.
• The fossil fuel energy industry does not need taxpayer subsidies. In 2011, the Big Five oil companies alone made $137 billion in profits. During the first quarter of 2012, the Big Five oil companies earned a combined $33.5 billion, or $368 million per day.
• Unlike renewable energy incentives which periodically expire and require Congress to approve extensions, the fossil fuel industry has dozens of subsidies permanently engrained in the tax code from decades of successful lobbying. In 2011, the oil, gas, and coal industries spent a combined $167 million on lobbying the federal government.
You can read he full tax of Bernie's proposed legislation-- being blocked by the GOP and corrupt right-wing Democrats, of course-- here. If it were to pass, the bill would comprehensively abolish fossil fuel subsidies, saving taxpayers billions of dollars. It ends tax breaks, eliminates special financing, does away with taxpayer-funded fossil fuel R&D, and sets fair royalties policies to ensure the fossil fuel corporations pay their fair share. One provision that probably especially drives Joe Barton insane is that it would save taxpayers $6.8 billion by closing the loophole that allows corporations like BP to deduct money they spend cleaning up their own oil spills and paying damages.
This year Big Oil has given Barton another $105,150 in payoffs. Some righteous dude who works at an oil or gas company donated $2,400 to Bernie Sanders for the work he's doing to make America a fairer and most just, clean society. The oil industry itself, of course, hasn't donated a cent to keep Bernie Sanders in office. Quite the contrary. They are among Big Businesses encouraging Republican candidates to run against Bernie in November. If you'd like to help make sure he is reelected... he's the only senator running for reelection that Blue America has endorsed.