Conflict of Interest? – You Betcha

Upon opening the Washington Post today was this interesting article:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/10/AR2010011002793.html?hpid%3Dtopnews&sub=AR

  It is about Rep. John Dingell (D – Michigan, 15th District) and his clear conflict of interest with special interests.  As it so happens those special interests employ his wife.  With the 15th district being in Michigan, then it probably doesn’t surprise you that it includes Detroit and that the special interests are indeed from the auto industry.

The first thing I want to call out is how the author glazes over how the two met.  His wife, 27 years his younger, met him back in ’81 when he was 55.  That means she was 28.  What middle-aged guy going on elderly doesn’t talk to the 28 year old sitting next to him?  Its BS he talked to her because she was nervous to fly

  She was hot in her day.  End of story.   The picture in the Post makes Mrs. Dingell look attractive for a lady today in her 50’s.  He rocks a wheelchair and looks like a guy in his 80s. 

I digress, but I know male behavior – you can’t kid me.

  SOOOO…..his wife, 27th years his younger (not sure if I can call him a letcher or raise my eye-brows at his ‘virility’) is the gand-daughter of a prominent auto executive and has made her career in and about Detroit.  It doesn’t really matter if she worked directly for GM or was a hired consultant, we know where her loyalties lie and where her paycheck comes from.

  The thing that gets me about the article is that I see both sides of the dilemma.  On one hand, we know the guy is getting his re-election coffers filled by the special interests groups to begin with.  That part of me really doesn’t care if his wife works for the industry or not.  He’s going to represent business and constituents (and their jobs) in the best way he knows how so he can get re-elected.  It is no surprise then that those same groups contribute to get him re-elected.  In our current Congress, without knowing a lot about the guy, I can take the anonymous but instinctual swipe that the special interests do indeed have his ear.

  On the other hand, the purist part of me clearly sees the conflict of interest and shouldn’t excuse this kind of relationship, wether I know its futile to rage against the machine or not.  But it really worth the fight?  There’s little I can do right now to change the system.

  So what is one to do?  In short, change the self-serving attitude of Congress by voting them out and replacing them with statesmen, not politicians.

  The article talks (and I wish it would have been more) about the self-governing rules that Congressmen put on themselves to decide if something is ethical.  That is the real sticking point.  There can be a healthy debate on if the Dingells business and politics clash.  The author went over it quite a bit.  What I care about is the self-regulation.  It is abhorently low.  Let me give you some examples.

1)  The article mentioned how Congressmen’s ownership of stocks has skyrocketed.  Why? LEGAL  Insider information!  Its illegal for traders on Wall Street to take their inside corporate knowledge and act on in before the market knows it.  As we have seen, Congress is heavily subsidized by special interests.  Theyalso have a lot of dealings with corporate America.  The connections, hearings, fund-raisers, etc all give them ample opportunity to get information and LEGALLY act upon it.  There is a study floating out there (I heard about it on NPR) that shows Congressmen’s investments aberrantly outperform the market.  The only explanation is insider trading…but wait, it isn’t illegal for them…so why not?

If it isn’t ethical for Wall Street insiders, why is it ethical then for Beltway insiders?

2) The 27th Amendment.  

 “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

The most recent amendment to our Constitution doesn’t say Congress can’t vote itself a pay raise, it just says they have to wait until the next election.  I say that’s pretty weak. 

3) The still get their cost of living adjustment (COLA) too.  So, when I don’t get a cost of living adjustment and senior citizens on social security don’t get one because of the crappy economy, you would expect that Congress doens’t get one either.

Wrong – they are getting an extra $4,700 this year.  That is roughly a 2.8% pay raise. 

4) Congress voted in 1989 to pass a law that said unless Congress votes to not give themselves a COLA, they get one AUTOMATICALLY.  That measure died in committee this time around.  Surprise!

5) Rep. Charlie Rangel (D, NY – 15th) gets away with tax evasion.  Enough said.

  So, when it comes to money and conflicts of interest, Congress is rife with them.  However, unlike other officials, they are the sole deciders of what is ethical or not.   Mrs. Dingell took a huge hit on her GM stock prices because she was afraid to sell for fear of it being seen as using her unique position to her advantage.  I believe she didn’t act because she knew it would be far worse to be seen as using her position to get access to the fact that GM was going under.  She and her husband wouldn’t have been able to get away with it – and they were right.

  My last and final point to this article is that this type of action and mentality is on both sides of the aisle.  Republican groups and Congressmen have the gall to point the finger at Dingell when they themselves are just as guilty of similar conflict.

Everyone always acts so shocked when some scandal breaks on the news cycle about some lousy politician letting their family and constituents down.  Why are we so surprised anymore?  What indiscretions and crimes are going on right now that we don’t know about?  What about the ones that never get caught?  When you get used to having power and getting what you want, it tends to go to your head.  People honestly believe they are above the law and that they can get away with ‘it’.  Just ask Eliot Spitzer or Richard Nixon how well that works out.

Power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Lets take that power back one voter at a time.  Spread the word that we’re watching.

– G.S.

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