Congress is lining its pockets with campaign funds, Schweitzer says. (Karen Bleier / Getty Images)
Peter Schweitzer is at it again.
The Hoover Institution Fellow from Stanford University, who two years ago exposed the ability of Congress to engage in insider stock trading without penalty, now asserts that our elected representatives are lining their own pockets with campaign funds generated through contributions that are extorted from their donors.
Schweitzer’s new book, “Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes and Line Their Own Pockets,” should send a chill down the spine of every voter in America.
The Oxford educated author names and provides specific examples of congressmen and senators who have benefited from rules they have established for themselves, using the threat of action or inaction on bills to squeeze people or their companies that are subject to legislation the lawmakers consider.
The system is so corrupt, according to Schweitzer, that Congress even has nicknames for these schemes. One is called “tollbooth,” where the speaker of the House or powerful committee chairs postpone votes while soliciting campaign contributions from interested parties. If the payment is too low or an opposing side offers more money, the bill never makes it to the “legislative highway” for a vote.
As if that’s not enough to bring down Congress from its already pathetic job approval rating of 9 percent, our politicos have another scheme identified in the book as “milker bills.” In this scheme, bills are used to milk donations from individuals or businesses, a ploy that’s carried to a further extreme by a trick called a “double milker” bill.
Under this approach, individuals or businesses with opposite interests are pitted against donations to pump both for donations. Schweitzer says President Obama used the “double milker” to raise $1.7 million from Silicone Valley interests and $4.1 million from Hollywood contributors when Obama announced he would probably sign anti-piracy legislation to keep movies from being easily distributed without royalties to the industry.
Then the president disavowed the legislation, leaving Hollywood angry, but leaving his campaign almost $6 million richer. But the political money grab gets even more obscene despite ostensible efforts to control campaign contributions in recent years.
While limits on donations have been enacted, Congress has found a way around the restrictions by creating a new money-raising vehicle called a “Leadership PAC.” These political action committees can accept individual donations of up to $5,000 with no cap on the total amount.
Unlike regular contributions, according to Schweitzer, these Leadership PAC funds don’t have to be returned or donated to charity at the end of a politician’s term. Instead, the politicos can keep the money although they at least have to pay income taxes on their lucre.
In the past, these committees were used only by veteran congressional members, but they’re now much more widespread. Even the youngest congressman, 29-year-old Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., has a Leadership PAC and the opportunity to build up a nest egg for the future.
How are these “leaders” using their political action funds?
According to Schweitzer, there’s a wide range of valuable uses for those contributions, like the $108,000 that Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., spent at the Breakers resort in Palm Beach, or the $27,000 dinner tab his Leadership PAC picked up at a Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Congressman Greg Meeks, D-N.Y., has used $35,000 on NFL tickets according to the book. Others hire immediate family members to work within their campaigns at high salaries.
When Schweitzer wrote his previous book on insider trading by members of Congress, our politicians were shamed into banning such practices by a public outcry.
He’s hoping his new book causes similar change.
Strong steps seem appropriate. Ban the Leadership PAC altogether, never allow politicians to use any campaign funds to pay family members, and end the practice that allows them to keep any contributions. Of course, any change will only occur if Schweitzer’s new book elicits the same kind of angry taxpayer response that his last book generated.
Frank Beckmann is host of “The Frank Beckmann Show” on WJR-AM (760) from 9 a.m. to noon Monday-Friday.