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I often throw around the “completely corrupt” theme somewhat flippantly when talking about our beltway betters and the charade they perform for us while enriching themselves. Unfortunately, as definitive as that simple phrase may be, it really does understate just how much the operations of this Potemkin constitutional republic have been distorted and bastardized into one hell of a joke on us, We the People.
Before I dive in, it is worth noting up front (via my quick, morning internet search) that the current annual salary for both a U.S. Senator and a U.S. Congressman is $174,000. It is also worth noting that all of the quotes to come are from a 2013 book called Extortion – How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Your Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets by Peter Schweizer so it may be somewhat dated. If there has been a major government reform movement since then that I have missed, please accept my apologies and disregard this entire post.
As noted, the fact that there is widespread corruption in our ruling beltway will surprise no one. But it is important to note just how refined and institutionalized the process is…and the magnitudes of cash involved. Lest you are under any impression that your citizen legislators work for their constituents back home:
… The underground money economy of the Permanent Political Class works in hidden ways. When newly elected members of Congress come to Washington, D.C., they often find that they – much to their surprise – are already in debt.
Both Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives have created a largely hidden system of “party dues” that requires members to extract money beyond their own campaign donations to fund their respective parties. – Page 63
So, on day one in office, it is clarified that each congressman actually reports directly to the party leader in the House and the head of the party’s national committee.
It appears that dues are set based on the prestige of the committee seats each wishes to occupy:
… The more powerful their committee assignments, the more money members are expected to extract from the industries they have oversight over or regulate. For a newly elected member of Congress on a weak committee – for example, the Ethics Committee, which is considered the least attractive committee for a variety of reasons – the annual party dues can run around $150,000. And for those on a powerful committee? The sky is the limit. Those in leadership positions or on powerful committees can be expected to raise $600,000 or more as part of the system. – Pages 63-64
Yet another priority for your congressman to answer to that is at least an order of magnitude more “important” and more immediate than the lowly constituent back home. Feeling good about your government yet? (For the record, I looked up a couple of local representatives and it appears that having two committee seats at a time is common. My very limited research varied between one and three.)
SIDE NOTE: The “Ethics Committee” equals “weak committee” construct in that last quote deserved a post of its own. So a newcomer is allowed to have an entry level seat on the committee that judges the ethics of his peers and his advancement beyond that seat relies entirely on those peers and their House leader. Is there any wonder that the term House Ethics Committee (or Senate Ethics Committee, for that matter) is the biggest joke on cocktail circuits for the rich and powerful both here and abroad? (See “Financial Disclosure Forms, Use of” if you doubt that statement in the slightest.) But, I digress.
Well, if you have stuck with me this far, let’s keep digging:
Raising money is what helps an ambitious member of the House rise in the ranks far more than ideas or competence. …
But you get what you pay for. Built into these [committee seat] valuations is the implicit extortion value of the seat. Sitting on the House Financial Services Committee means you can extract lots of money from wealthy financial institutions. But a slot of the Ethics Committee gives you little opportunity for extortion – except perhaps from your fellow members of Congress who are facing ethics investigations. Members of the Ethics Committee can and do receive donations from their colleagues and party leadership! … – Page 65
There it is again. Are you feeling good about the self-policing within the Legislative Branch yet?
Well, I don’t want this to get too long but I cannot help but dig just a little deeper:
Apart from the hidden dues system, there is another major – but also hidden – source of politicians’ funds: each other. Federal laws are very clear: a politician can’t solicit or receive campaign contributions in congressional buildings or in the U.S. Capital. But there is a little-talked about exemption to that rule. … The exemption states that “the rules and standards of conduct enforced by the Standards Committee do not prohibit Members from soliciting (or receiving) campaign or political contributions from other Members in the House buildings (emphasis in the original). It is a huge loophole that makes it possible for members to link their votes to cash. … Members of Congress receiving these funds can even convert them into personal cash in their own pockets! – Page 67
All in the name of good government, I am sure. Given the levels of corruption that they don’t even bother to hide from us anymore, I can only imagine the magnitudes that are still hidden and, given our reliably incurious press, will likely never be known. I suspect that if you are paying attention – and “see the game” just a little bit – the answer is in the headlines right before our eyes. I would bet that the corruption pipeline had a major branch through Ukraine a few years back. Now? Well, pipeline branches are being opened all over the place with the $Trillions being placed from your checkbook. The best way to find out is to know what stocks the Pelosi’s have purchased in the last 90 days.
Good luck with that…and good day.Published in