"It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress."--Mark Twain
Congress is in a blind rush to consider and most likely approve George Bush's $700 billion proposal to bail out Wall Street. The real issue is where were our representatives when Wall Street moguls were in effect stealing the country blind? The answer is simple: many in Congress were doing the same thing, in one fashion or another. Indeed, having the present Congress investigate the Wall Street fiasco is like having a fox investigate a murder in the chicken coop.
Pork barrel spending, hastily passed legislation, partisan bickering, a skewed work ethic (most of our so-called representatives don't even work half a year), graft and moral turpitude have all contributed to the perception that Congress is permeated by rampant corruption.
As I detail in my new book, The Change Manifesto, the abuses of office run the gamut from neglecting their constituencies to engaging in self-serving practices, including the misuse of eminent domain, earmarking hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracting in return for personal gain and campaign contributions, having inappropriate ties to lobbyist groups and incorrectly or incompletely disclosing financial information. The following is just a sampling of the kinds of corruption that have become associated with elected officials of all political persuasions.
Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) ran for Congress in 1990 with the slogan "A Congressman we can be proud of." Cunningham has since been accused of accepting bribes and special favors, including prostitution, luxury vacations and tickets to the Super Bowl.
Representative Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) allegedly used his position as a ranking member of the Appropriations Committee to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in contracting for family, friends and clients connected with lobbyists in direct exchange for contributions. Lewis has also been tied to the same contractors as Duke Cunningham and is under FBI investigation.
Representative Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) has been accused of using his position to increase his personal wealth through land deals, purchasing property with a group of investors at depressed prices and then pushing through earmarks for such things as freeway construction and commercial development that make the land more valuable. Calvert is under investigation by the FBI.
Representative John Murtha (D-Penn.) has been investigated for having close ties to a lobbyist firm and its clients. The lobbyist firm PMA and nine of its clients have been among the top 20 contributors to the congressman's campaigns, contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the 2006 Defense Appropriations Bill, PMA's clients received at least 60 earmarks amounting to $95.1 million in contracting.
Representative William Jefferson (D-La.) was indicted on June 4, 2007, on 16 criminal counts, including soliciting bribes, honest services fraud, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations, money laundering, obstruction of justice and racketeering. He allegedly agreed to perform official acts for 11 different companies in return for bribes and he was also accused of bribing a Nigerian official with $100,000, of which $90,000 was found in his freezer when criminal investigators raided his home.
Representative Gary Miller (R-Calif.) has been investigated for the misuse of eminent domain for personal gain and tax evasion. In three separate real estate sales to the cities of Monrovia and Fontana in California, Miller invoked the Internal Revenue Code, claiming eminent domain. In these sales, Miller realized a profit of over $10 million, which he reinvested in real estate. Miller's transactions are under investigation by the FBI.
Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) has been investigated by the Justice Department on charges that he accepted bribes or other unreported gifts from VECO, an Alaskan oil field engineering firm. He admitted that the company paid for at least part of the renovations on his home. Stevens' Alaskan home was raided by the FBI and the IRS in July 2007.
Representative Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) is under federal investigation for his involvement in a land-swap deal. In April 2007, the FBI raided his family business, and he temporarily resigned from the House Intelligence Committee.
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), minority leader of the 110th Congress, has significant sway in the rewarding of contracts as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. His earmarking of projects involving clients for his former chief-of-staff, lobbyist Gordon Hunter Bates, has come under particular scrutiny.
Representative Allan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.) has engaged in huge amounts of earmarking and has been investigated for inaccurate and incomplete financial disclosures. He directed $369 million in federal grants to his district between the years 1997-2006. Of this, $250 million was directed to five non-profits created by Mollohan and staffed by his friends.
Out of these representatives, all but one is still serving in Congress. Clearly, somewhere along the way, democracy has given way to kleptocracy, and representation by statesmen has been rejected in favor of rule by career politicians, corporations and thieves--individuals and entities with little regard for the rights of American citizens or their property.
If there is any absolute maxim by which the federal government seems to operate, it is that the taxpayer always gets ripped off. We are the ones who get swindled out of billions of dollars by government representatives with little regard for our rights or our property. This is something we can't afford to forget, especially now, as our government moves into the so-called "business" of saving large financial institutions.
Yet we will be the ones to pay the bill when it comes due. We, the taxpayers, will be the ones to keep the country running with our hard-earned dollars and the sweat of our brows. And it will be up to us to hold our elected officials accountable on this matter and not just write them another blank check to use and abuse.