Just in case the incoming Democratic majority is serious about real ethics reform, here are a few ideas for its members to consider:
Ban spousal and family employment by campaign committees and PACs.
This is not a new phenomenon. Sen. Harry Truman hired his wife, Bess, to work on his public payroll at a $2,500 salary (this when senators were paid $10,000). Worried about media criticism, he urged her to “only just drop in and do some signing of letters. It helps all concerned.” Truman was right to be concerned. It was wrong then and it’s wrong now.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) opened the floodgates to the latest version of this abuse when he secured a ruling from the FEC allowing him to hire his wife as a fundraiser on his campaign payroll. In his case, his wife was an experienced campaign aide. But now 30 members have employed their wives or other family members on their campaign or PAC payrolls.
Whether these people are competent or not is beside the point. Campaign contributions are not bribes because they are not personal income. But when the campaign money flows to a spouse, the contributions become income for the member. This thinly veiled way to launder campaign contributions so that they add to the family income should be banned. Hiring of other family members should also be prohibited.
Those who have hired spouses and family members include: Reps. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), wife and two brothers; Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), husband’s law firm; Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), wife and step-daughter; John Doolittle (R-Calif.), wife; Ralph Hall (R-Texas), daughter-in-law; Pete Stark (D-Calif.), wife; Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), wife; Ron Lewis (R-Ky.), wife; Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), wife; Jim Costa (D-Calif.), cousin; Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), wife; Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), nephew; Chris Cannon (R-Utah), three daughters; Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.), sister-in-law and daughter; Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), wife; Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), daughter; Bob Filner (D-Calif.), wife; J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.), wife; Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), wife; Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), wife; Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), wife; John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), wife; Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), wife; Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.), nephew; John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), son; and Howard Berman (D-Calif.), brother Michael’s political consulting firm; Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), son; and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), son and daughter during vice presidential race; and ex-Reps. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), wife; and Tom DeLay (R-Texas), wife and daughter.
An only slightly more removed form of family enrichment is the increasingly frequent hiring of the wives or children of congressmen or senators as lobbyists. House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) son, for example, closed his music business in Illinois and moved to Washington where he was eventually hired to lobby for Google. Incoming Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) son and son-in-law are lobbyists. The wife of House Republican Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) is a lobbyist who hawks for tobacco companies, one of the congressman’s biggest contributors. While legislators piously maintain that family members do not lobby them and some even bar them from communicating with their offices, their status as family members of key legislators is well known to their colleagues, who cannot avoid feeling pressure to give them special advantage.
It is only by letting the administration police appropriations bills that the massive conflicts of interest inherent in the earmarking-for-campaign-contributions scam can be stopped.
Proposals to require public reporting of who has inserted what earmark will not be effective since most members are quite proud of their earmarks and would not only not mind public disclosure, but would actually likely welcome it.
Require lobbyists to disclose the specific bills that they are lobbying for or against on the lobbying registration forms.
Ban all privately paid travel by members, including use of corporate jets.
Require electronic filing of all travel disclosures for private and government travel.
Require both chambers to work a full week, instead of the two- to three-day schedule they’ve had for the past few years.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for these reforms, but they do represent what Congress should do if it wants to come clean.