The Nature Of Congressional Bribery-- Meet Fred Upton (R-MI)
I don't know how many years we've been asking about Fred Upton taking bribes from the special interests he champions. Two years ago we asked directly How Does Fred Upton Define Bribery? and two years before that there was another one, and a real doozy in 2011. But Upton and quid pro quos go back long before DWT even started. This week, though, David Sirota and Andrew Perez stumbled across Upton when they were investigating who takes bribes from Big Oil and Gas for the International Business Times. First though, keep in mind that since 1990-- Upton was first elected to Congress in 1986-- Upton has gobbled up $789,350 in legalized bribes from Big Oil and Gas-- of which $235,650 came in for the 2014 election cycle. So far this year he's gotten $79,500... and the cycle is young. For the sake of Sirota's and Perez's investigation, though, there's a separate category under Big Oil and Gas, called Natural Gas Pipelines. Last year Upton was their third favorite House member after John Boehner ($74,300) and Bill Shuster ($64,200), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (and deficit head of the Pipelines subcommittee). They gave Upton $59,700, a nice chunk of his career-long haul of $144,900 from these guys. But there was even more money Upton knew he could get out this crew.
The fossil fuel industry had already managed to shape a bill moving rapidly through Congress last summer, gaining provisions to ease its ability to export natural gas. But one key objective remained elusive: a measure limiting the authority of local communities to slow the construction of pipelines because of environmental concerns.So how is this not prosecuted as a public official taking bribes? Paul Clements, the progressive Democrat running for the southwest Michigan seat Upton has been occupying for nearly 30 years, never calls in "bribery." Yesterday he said that it's "a clear conflict of interest" and urged Upton (and Murkowski) to "return this money or resign from the House Energy Committee. This is a clear sign of the corrupting influence of money in politics. Michiganders deserve a Congressman who will put them ahead of big oil companies." Upton's not going to resign. But you can help Paul beat him; we have a page for that.
Then, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican who chaired the House Energy Committee, gave the industry an opportunity to amplify its influence. Joining forces with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who chaired the Senate Energy Committee, he launched a so-called joint fundraising committee, a campaign war chest that would accept donations from a range of contributors, with the proceeds divided between the two lawmakers.
Executives at one of the nation’s largest natural gas pipeline companies soon deposited more than $83,000 into the joint fund’s coffers. The very next day, Upton delivered on the industry’s aspirations: He rushed a bill through his legislative panel that would not only streamline the approval process for new pipelines but also empower federal officials to impose tight deadlines on state and local governments seeking to review their potential environmental impacts.
Joint fundraising committees, which pool donations and then distribute them to their overseers, have been around for years, but they have typically been organized to help political parties raise money in bunches or to enable multiple lawmakers serving the same geographic area to share donations, making fundraising more efficient. The Murkowski-Upton committee presented an innovation: a joint fundraising committee organized around specific public policy, appearing to link the influx of money from a powerful special interest to a particular set of legislative goals.
While Murkowski and Upton represent constituencies separated by thousands of miles, their joint bank account allowed them to vacuum in cash from the very industries with business before their legislative panels. It also provided an easy means of boosting their campaign donations by enabling them to tap each other’s contributors.
“They are basically saying to their supporters, ‘You’ve already given to me, now you can give the maximum to both of us,’” said former Federal Election Commission (FEC) counsel Larry Noble, now at the Campaign Legal Center, an advocacy group that calls for tighter restriction on campaign finance. “Using committee chairs is a very powerful way to do that because it allows the industry to get basically one-stop shopping. It also makes it very clear what these contributions are about.”
...The Murkowski-Upton committee stands out as a uniquely explicit means of influencing legislation, say campaign finance experts, because it takes in contributions reaching chairs of both the House and Senate energy committees. That gives the oil and gas industry an opportunity to write one check knowing the proceeds are reaching the leaders of the two panels that write the rules regulating their business.
...Noble, the former FEC counsel, said the timing of the donations from the industry to the joint fundraising committee is especially troubling, presenting the appearance of influence for sale.
“Raising money from an industry at the same time a bill is being considered raises all sorts of appearance issues,” he told IBT. “There have been real ethics problems with that, because the obvious implication is that the money is being given to help you decide how to vote on a bill.”