As legislators, members of Congress shape the environment where both benefits and detriments to their own fiscal wellbeing can be derived. A recent investigation by the Washington Post has shown the 73 congresspeople engage in practices which leverage their power for a net a financial gain. No one is corrupting these members — they’re doing it to themselves.
The Washington Post reports that:
The practice is both legal and permitted under the ethics rules
that Congress has written for itself, which allow lawmakers to take actions that benefit themselves or their families except when they are the lone beneficiaries. The financial disclosure system Congress has implemented also does not require the legislators to identify potential conflicts at the time that they take official actions that intersect or overlap with their investments.
The committees rarely discipline their own, instead providing advisory opinions that generally give support and justification to lawmakers who take actions that intersect with their personal financial holdings, according to interviews with nearly a dozen ethics experts and government watchdog groups. And though Congress has required top executive branch officials to divest themselves of assets that may present a conflict, lawmakers have not asked the same of themselves.
While members of Congress are encouraged to consult the ethics committee for advice on whether or not to endorse or vote on a bill that may benefit their or one of their close relatives financial holdings, the committee rarely returns any rulings of a conflict of interests.
That may explain why the Post’s investigation uncovered these clear conflicts of interests. Each has gone unquestioned, remains completely legal and provides a stunning example of our representatives legislating on behalf of their own self-interest:
[Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D. Calif)] helped secure tax breaks for racehorse owners — then purchased seven horses for himself when the new rules kicked in.
[Rep. Cynthia M. Lummis (R-Wyo.)] co-sponsored legislation to double the life span of federal grazing permits that ranchers such as her husband rely on to feed cattle.
And [Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.)] co-sponsored a natural gas bill as Exxon Mobil negotiated a deal that paid millions for his wife’s shares in two natural gas companies founded by her great-great-grandfather.
These are just three of the over seventy cases which have been uncovered with zero accountability. Cases like these are just a few of the many that reflect how private interests really can and do sway the vote of politicians who claim to be representing their constituents.