Ethically Challenged

10.08.12

Yes, American Politics is Corrupt

I've sometimes shocked audiences at lectures when I say that the American political system is the second most corrupt of the major industrial democracies, ahead only of Italy's.

But this in today's Washington Post is a good example of what I mean.

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.

Those lawmakers 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, according to a Washington Post analysis. The findings emerge from an examination by The Post of financial disclosure forms and public records for all 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.