Why Is It So Hard To Keep Some Members Of Congress From Doing Dirty Deals?
It Should Be Easy, Right? Just Don’t Let Them Sit On Corporate Boards, Run Companies, Or Trade Stocks While In Office. Fat Chance…
Quite a few Cabinet Secretaries — you know, Trump’s “best people” — have been forced out of their jobs amid mounting and embarrassing ethics violations. Most recently Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and perhaps most infamously, former EPA head Scott Pruitt. A lot of their misdeeds came to light as the result of a lot of good reporting by Politico and other news organizations.
But it’s easier to go about unnoticed and get away with things for much longer in a sea of 535 members of the House and Senate.
How about a sitting member of the House who touted his services as the CEO of a corporation at the same time as serving in Congress? That’s apparently exactly what Iowa Republican Rod Blum did. According to Roll Call, a photo of Blum, wearing his congressional pin, was featured on the website of a corporation called “Tin Moon”, until one day it suddenly disappeared. Perhaps due to the publication of an investigative report by the Associated Press.
Blum’s been under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics, for failing to disclose his ownership in a new company launched while he was in Congress. That company, “Tin Moon” was started in 2016, during Blum’s first of 2 terms in office. The ethics office further concludes he may have “misused official House resources to support a business endeavor” and that he “may have violated federal law, House rules, and standards of conduct”.
But unless the Justice Department picks up on it, that whole mess of bad (and perhaps illegal) behavior is likely to add up to squat, since there probably won’t be much further action against him, since he lost his seat in the Midterms. (His shady business dealings were an issue during this year’s campaign).
So now, presumably, he can devote his full energy to “Tin Moon” which is a so-called “reputation management” company, meaning it’s in the noble business of purging negative internet search results. According to the Associated Press, that work included search results of companies cited for safety violations by the Food and Drug Administration. Back in May, the FDA warned businesses against doing business with “Tin Moon”, saying they ought to work to correct safety violations rather than seek “ways to hide” them from the public.
We’re not so sure how good “Tin Moon” is at its job, considering when we did a Google search for the company itself, 2 of the 3 top results were negative articles about the company; the 3rd was the company’s website:
Now, we understand Members of Congress do not make a lot of money compared to a lot of corporate executives, just $174,000 a year. So either they care enough about people or power or the scads of cash they’ll make when they leave Congress as lobbyists, consultants, corporate board members, TV commentators, the list goes on…or sometimes they figure out some other, more immediate way to enrich themselves. (And of course the President hasn’t set a very good example of not leveraging his personal business while in office — although despite a lot of people screaming about it, that has not yet proven illegal.)
Yet there always seems to be an example of baldfaced corruption. Back in August we ran a story entitled: “What The Hell Is A Sitting Member Of Congress Doing Sitting On The Board Of Directors Of A Publicly Traded Company Anyway?”
That referred to New York Republican Chris Collins, who has the distinction of being Trump’s first backer in the House, and was arrested on federal charges of insider trading. (He was also re-elected, and actually, there are very few guidelines — and nothing in the Constitution — about convicted criminals serving in Congress. That was a question we examined when now-Montana Representative Greg Gianforte body-slammed a reporter). Trump’s former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, also formerly in the House was also involved in the same stock deal, although not charged. He resigned ostensibly for other misdeeds (also because Trump was mad at him for failing to get Obamacare repealed).
Thing is, there is legislation that could fix the most egregious examples of this: Democratic Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Jeff Merkley of Oregon are co-sponsoring it. And it’s pretty simple: according to CNBC, “The measure would ban members of Congress and senior staff from buying or selling individual stocks while in office. Members would also be barred from serving on any corporate boards.” Boom. So why not?
Because Republicans are in control of the Senate, and so far none of them are signing on to the Brown/Merkley proposal, which would need to happen for it to pass. (Elizabeth Warren introduced an even stricter bill, which would ban members of Congress and White House staff from owning individual stocks altogether.)
That doesn’t change the fact, as Brown says: “Elected officials have access to nonpublic information that can affect individual companies and entire industries”, making it really easy for them to abuse their power and use that information for personal gain.