Friday, January 04, 2013

How Corrupt Are Members Of Corgress? Short Answer: Very Corrupt


A uniquely American shame

The congressional ethics committees are pitiful jokes-- and the joke is on the American people. They are the center of congressional corruption, protecting incumbents who get caught with their paws in the cookie jar. Two weeks ago, one of Congress' most horrifying corrupt members, Buck McKeon, was quietly let off the hook for his latest infraction. He's the last Member of Congress standing who took big bribes from Countrywide, the only "Friend of Angelo" who hasn't been defeated for reelection or forced to retire. This kind of cover-up and white-wash is the rule, not the exception.

Sunday the Washington Post took a look at the special congressional corruption that involves family members working as lobbyists. After a series of Tom DeLay scandals the Democrats came in and passed some half-assed phony-baloney reforms that didn't do shit to stop the culture of corruption that defines Washington's political elites. That was in 2007. "Since then, 56 relatives of lawmakers have been paid to influence Congress [and] more than 500 firms have spent more than $400 million on lobbying teams that include the relatives of members."
The Post analysis shows that the interests of lawmakers and their relatives have overlapped to varying degrees on bills before Congress. In the past six years, for example, 36 congressional relatives-- including spouses, children, siblings, parents and in-laws-- have been paid to influence 250 bills passing through their family members’ congressional committees or sponsored by the members.

All of this is legal under the rules Congress has written for itself.

That lawmakers have relatives working as lobbyists has been widely reported over the years. Lawmakers have consistently said their relatives don’t lobby them directly. The 2007 overhaul prohibited spouses from direct lobbying but gave other relatives more leeway.

For the first time since the changes, however, The Post examination reveals the extent to which relatives are still paid to work on issues before their family members.

“It’s a technique of throwing money at the feet of the congressman who can influence my business,” said Craig Holman, a campaign finance and government ethics lobbyist for Public Citizen.

The family ties are another example of the intersection of lawmakers’ public and private interests, which The Post has been documenting in a year-long series. Earlier articles revealed lawmakers who secured earmarks for projects near properties they own, traded in stocks of companies lobbying on bills before them and pushed legislation affecting industries in which they had financial interests.

To examine lobbying, the newspaper mined a range of public documents, including records of lawmakers’ family connections compiled by, a nonpartisan Web site that tracks congressional disclosures. The Post culled thousands of quarterly lobbyist disclosure reports and tracked legislation through the House and Senate to identify instances in which relatives were paid to lobby on matters that came before their congressional relatives.

In the mid-2000s, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal helped pressure lawmakers to pass ethics revisions. The 2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act imposed disclosure rules on earmarks, banned gifts from lobbyists and, for the first time, addressed the behavior of lobbyists related to lawmakers.

The changes restrict-- but do not prohibit-- relatives of members from lobbying Congress. In the House, the overhaul does prohibit people from lobbying their lawmaker spouses or their offices. In the Senate, the rules went further and prohibited spouses and all immediate family members from being paid to lobby anyone in the Senate.

But the laws left a lot of space for relatives.

For example, in the Senate, a son-in-law is free to lobby his in-laws. In the House, lawmakers may be lobbied by their children and parents.

“I was arguing there should be an absolute ban,” Holman said. Lawmakers had no interest. “The reform that was passed is so narrow, it is easily sidestepped.”

Most relatives-- 48 of the 56-- began their careers as congressional lobbyists only after they had family members elected to the House or Senate, records show.

...Combining lobbying and legislating is a family tradition for Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.). Her father was executive director of the Republican National Committee. In the 1970s, decades before she entered Congress, she married a lobbyist, Bill Emerson. He was elected to the House in 1980 to represent rural southern Missouri. While her husband served in Congress, Jo Ann Emerson lobbied for the restaurant and insurance industries.

When Bill Emerson died of cancer in 1996, Jo Ann Emerson went from lobbying to holding her husband’s seat and has kept it since for a 32-year family run. After the Republicans’ takeover of the House two years ago, Jo Ann Emerson became chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that handles the budgets of the Treasury Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Internal Revenue Service, the District of Columbia and other agencies. She also serves on the appropriations subcommittee that budgets the Food and Drug Administration and Agriculture Department.

As she serves in Congress, her daughters have continued the family tradition of lobbying.

Older daughter Tori Emerson Barnes has lobbied since 2005 for General Motors. Younger daughter Katharine Emerson began lobbying for Monsanto the year her mother became subcommittee chairman, records show.

...Jo Ann Emerson was re-elected with 72 percent of the vote in November, but announced this month that she is leaving office to run a lobbying organization, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Her predecessor, another former congressman, received a compensation package of more than $1.6 million in 2010. She’s not leaving until January or February, so for two months she will be in the unusual position of serving in Congress while already having an outside job lined up with an organization that lobbies Congress.

The 2007 changes on family lobbying put no restrictions at all on the daughters of House members. Katharine Emerson and Tori Emerson Barnes are allowed to lobby their mother and her staff and her colleagues. Even if they don’t lobby their mother, the companies that are paying them have full teams of lobbyists that regularly seek to influence bills pending before her.

Last year, Monsanto spent $7.4 million on its 21-member lobbying team, according to lobbying disclosure reports. In the period that Katharine Emerson has been on the team, Monsanto has reported lobbying on two bills co-sponsored by Rep. Emerson and seven others that went through her committee and subcommittees.

Since 2007, Tori Emerson Barnes’s team of General Motors lobbyists has tried to influence 15 bills co-sponsored by Emerson and 18 that have gone through her committee and subcommittees — including the financial bailout that included General Motors, measures on fuel-economy standards and defense appropriations. GM spent $5.4 million last year with 58 lobbyists.

Asked about the possibility of a conflict of interest, Rep. Emerson and the firms, speaking on behalf of her daughters, said they all employ a higher standard of ethics than Congress mandates. They all say they forbid any contact between lobbyists and their family members in office.

“I have never voted or acted on an issue as a result of Monsanto’s or General Motors’ support or opposition to it,” Rep. Emerson said in a statement released by her office. “I do not know on what issues my daughters work for their employers. We never, ever discuss their work. My daughters do not influence my opinion of, or action on, any issue before Congress.”

“GM’s own strict conflict-of-interest standards prohibit Ms. Barnes from lobbying Congresswoman Emerson,” said Greg Martin, a GM spokesman.

“Any employee of Monsanto may not lobby their own relatives, a relative’s office or on any legislation affiliated with the relative or the committees on which they serve,” said company spokesman Lee Quarles. “We understand that our policy is more than the law requires.”
Emerson's is an eye-popping story. But the lack of ethics behind it is not uniquely hers or uniquely Republican. It's uniquely Beltway congressional-- and we shouldn't put up with it any more. Jo Ann Emerson should be investigated and prosecuted not by some whitewashing bullshit committee of Congress' but by a law enforcement agency charged with putting her and her family in prison as an example to other wayward legislators.

Meanwhile, yesterday Congress voted to keep the ineffective incumbent protection Office of Congressional Ethics alive for another pointless year. Democrats opposed the resolution because the GOP included an authorization to use taxpayer money to continue fighting against Marriage Equality in the courts. One Republican voted with the Democrats, Walter Jones, who really should just quit the GOP already. He has a more progressive voting record than many of the Blue Dogs who still haven't been booted from office.

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