Money, Congress, and We the People

Want to know what a conflict of interest looks like? Here are three examples. First from Yahoo! News:

Influential senators working to overhaul the nation's health care system have investments and family ties with some of the biggest names in the industry. The wife of Sen. Chris Dodd, the lawmaker in charge of writing the Senate's bill, sits on the boards of four health care companies.

Members of both parties have industry connections, including Democrats Jay Rockefeller and Tom Harkin, in addition to Dodd, and Republicans Tom Coburn, Judd Gregg, John Kyl and Orrin Hatch, financial reports showed Friday.

The Hill reports:

Senators who oversee the $700 billion Wall Street rescue package held stocks in many of the banks bailed out towards the end of last year, according to financial disclosure reports released Friday.

According to the reports detailing senators’ finances in 2008, nearly half of the members of the Senate Banking Committee had holdings in financial institutions that have taken funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). The panel has jurisdiction over the bailout fund and other relief efforts directed by federal regulators to save the nation’s financial system.

For example, Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), a Banking panel member, has assets in several banks that have taken bailout funds. Along with Goldman Sachs, the senator has several assets in Bank of America funds, worth at least $115,00. Bank of America has received $45 billion in government funds.
And finally, from the Miami Herald:
Among the 17 senators who voted against allowing the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco are some of the top recipients of campaign contributions from the tobacco industry, which has donated millions of dollars to lawmakers in the past several campaign cycles.

Over the course of his nearly quarter-century Senate career, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who hails from the tobacco-rich state of Kentucky, has received $419,025 from the tobacco industry, more than any other member of Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that analyzes the influence of money on politics and policy.

North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr, who led the opposition to the bill, is the second-highest recipient and netted $359,100 from tobacco-related political action committees and individual contributions. His state is the nation's largest tobacco grower and is home to R.J. Reynolds, the nation's second-largest tobacco manufacturing company, which contributed $196,850 to Burr's campaigns.

Despite refusing to take lobbyist money during the campaign - and having the same policy put in place at the DNC - Barack Obama was still able to get elected President by a convincing margin. He refused to let his principles be stained by their money.

I think we all accepted the idea that just because Obama was elected, that didn't mean corporate and lobbyist money was divorced from government. Not at all. However, now that Obama has shown how one can get elected to high office without lobbyist donations, I find it striking that a lot of people in Washington think they somehow still find it necessary to be so closely connected to big-moneyed businesses and interest groups.

I see an apples-to-oranges comparison here - Congressional and Presidential elections aren't the same - but even so, it would be hard for any of these people to justify letting any conflict of interest get in the way of doing right by the people.

Senator Burr, for instance, faces a potentially competitive re-election campaign next year. Senator McConnell, on the other hand, doesn't face the voters again until 2014. And yet both felt the need to break from the vast majority of their colleagues to vote against the best interests of the people of our nation.

Members of Congress are supposed to represent We the People. That's why we have a Congress in the first place. If a lawmaker won't do right by We the People, then what does that tell you about their integrity?

No comments: