Ethical standards can be high or low. The following activities were considered ethical by the offending members of Congress, according to a story in The Washington Post:
“A California congressman helped secure tax breaks for racehorse owners — then purchased seven horses for himself when the new rules kicked in.
“A Wyoming congresswoman co-sponsored legislation to double the life span of federal grazing permits that ranchers such as her husband rely on to feed cattle.
“And a Pennsylvania congressman 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.”
Such stories tend to confirm our fears about many who represent us in government. It appears these members of Congress did nothing considered wrong under the ethical rules they have established for themselves.
As you would expect, the three incidents noted above are not the only questionable activities the Post uncovered. They were “among 73 members of Congress who have sponsored or co-sponsored legislation in recent years that could benefit businesses or industries in which either they or their family members are involved or invested.” That’s 73 out of the 535 members of the House and Senate.
“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.”
“Members of Congress contact the House and Senate ethics offices thousands of times each year to seek legal advice on a range of activities, including their work on legislation that might pose a conflict. Between 2007 and 2011, lawyers for the two committees issued at least 2,800 written opinions to lawmakers, sent 6,500 e-mails containing advice and provided guidance over the phone 40,000 times, according to records kept by the two committees.
“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.”
It’s time we had better rules for all lawmakers at all levels of government–from the president to school board members. With tighter rules about profiting from government work, we might get more lawmakers committed to the promoting the common good, not their personal and family wealth.
By the way, the guy who bought the horses is no longer in Congress. He now works for a “large lobbying firm, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, whose client list is broad and in recent years has included gambling companies that own racetracks, lobbying records show.”