My previous post on the subject prompted a reader of mine to send me the link above and a little commentary from the recently published book “Throw Them All Out.”
To begin with, among the multiple stunning revelations from Peter Schweizer’s book, “Throw Them All Out,” was that two past speakers of the House made millions of dollars as a result of information and opportunities afforded by their positions. Democrat Nancy Pelosi and her husband cashed in big time by getting special access to an initial public offering of Visa stock even as the House under her leadership refused to move important credit card industry reforms. Similarly, Republican Dennis Hastert bought a piece of land back home, then used an earmark to channel federal funds to build a highway nearby. Hastert more than doubled his money when he sold the land not long after.
Making a killing from public service is far from limited to Pelosi and Hastert, and often it’s perfectly legal because Congress exempts itself from many of the laws the rest of us have to observe, including those against insider trading. Lawmakers frequently say that they make a financial sacrifice to serve in Congress, but somehow they manage to leave Washington with a great deal more money than they had when they arrived. As former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin wrote Friday in the Wall Street Journal, “the corruption isn’t confined to one political party or just a few bad apples. It’s an endemic problem encompassing leadership on both sides of the aisle. It’s an entire system of public servants feathering their own nests.”
At its worst Congress is like a bunch of referees who get paid by team managers to call fouls on the other team and who are rewarded by the winning team. Jimmy Oberstar retired a mult-millionaire although it was because he married the rich widow of a lobbyist for the air industry he regulated.
You have only to look at the tens of millions Newt Gingrich earned even after he retired from Congress to see how good connections can pay off.
I’ve been pretty indifferent to calls over the years to limit Congressional terms. I’ve ignored pledges to vote against tax increases in three campaigns from Grover Norquist. There is however one pledge I’d love to see every candidate for Congress sign – a pledge not to lobby after retiring.