Bank favors, legalized bribes, immunity for spying, shady processes, and self-serving destruction of transparency law: there have been some serious legislative scandals during the last two Congresses; amazingly, most Americans don’t even know they happened. Congressional Dish’s Jennifer Briney gives us the scoop.
Here are five examples of congressional corruption that should have been big news:
5) April 2013: The Death of the STOCK Act
In late 2011, 60 Minutes exposed high-ranking members of Congress who used confidential information they received through their offices to profit through trades on the stock market. As a response to the public anger, Congress passed the Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge Act (“STOCK” Act), which was sold to the public, with much fanfare, as a bill that would prevent insider trading in Congress by giving the public greater access to the financial records of politicians and their staffs.
Almost exactly a year later, Congress and President Obama quietly gutted the STOCK Act, by repealing the central piece of the law which would have created an online, searchable website for disclosing and searching the finances of elected representatives and their staffs. The law that gutted the STOCK Act also repealed the requirement that financial disclosures be submitted electronically, allowing elected officials to submit them in unsearchable paper form, and exempted Presidential and Congressional staffs from reporting their finances at all.
Almost as scandalous as the self-serving law that gutted the STOCK Actwas the way the law was passed. Late on the afternoon of Thursday, April 11, 2013: Senator Christopher Coons passed the bill through an empty Senate chamber by voice vote, which allows a bill to pass without a recorded vote unless there is an objection. The next day, on a Friday afternoon well after all members would reasonably assume all votes to be finished, former Representative Eric Cantor did the same thing, passing the STOCK Act repeal through an empty House of Representatives. On Monday, April 15 - the day the government officials were due to submit their financial information - President Obama signed the bill into law.
A few hours later, the Boston Marathon bombings prevented this scandal from ever being covered by the national media.
4) June 2015: The USA Freedom Act Continues Bulk Data Collection
On May 31, 2015, a few provisions of the Patriot Act expired, including Section 215, which theoretically authorized the bulk collection of telephone metadata. In response to the expiring provisions and the public outrage over the documents exposing the true extent of NSA spying released by whistleblower Edward Snowden, Congress passed into law the USA Freedom Act, which was widely publicized as ending NSA bulk data collection. However, the new law actually gives immunity and unlimited funding to telecom companies in return for storing and turning over our data to the government. Instead of ending bulk data collection, it merely transferred storage responsibility to private companies. Most importantly, the USA Freedom Act left untouched thepieces of law that theoretically authorize the collection and storage of the contents of our calls, emails, and internet searches.
In addition to continuing bulk data collection, the USA Freedom Act also included a little-discussed provision which allows information collected by the government illegally to be used against us in court, as long as the government stops doing whatever illegal thing they were doing.
3) April 2015: Two Bills Transfer Money From The Poor to the Banks
The House of Representatives recently passed two bills that change the definitions of mortgage-related terms to allow banks and mobile-home sellers to charge their low-income customers much higher interest rates and fees. These bills were passed despite a Seattle Times/Center for Public Integrity expose of Clayton Homes' predatory practices in the mobile home loan business, which was published a week before the vote.
One of the bills was written by Rep. Stephen Fincher of Tennessee, who was Clayton Homes’ biggest campaign donation recipient; he took over $15,000 from the company for the 2014 election. The other bill - which benefits the banking, real estate, and insurance industries - was written by Rep. Bill Huizenga of Michigan, who has taken over $680,000 combined from those industries.
These bills are not law… yet. They are currently awaiting votes in the Senate.
2) December 2014: A Secret Provision to Give Political Parties More Money
The outgoing 113th Congress funded most of the government for 2015 in a law crafted while the government was on the brink of another shutdown, making the 2015 funding bill “must-sign” if a shutdown was to be avoided. The 1,603 page bill was only available to read for about 36 hours before Congress began voting.
On page 1,599, a provision was secretly attached to the “must sign” 2015 funding law which now allows rich people to contribute almost $130,000 per year to political parties, which is about four times more than the previous limit (although depending on how the provision is interpreted, they may be able to give much more). This provision was never debated in Congress before the vote. It was reportedly added to the funding law by the two most powerful men in the 114th Congress: Speaker of the House John Boehner of Ohio and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
1) December 2014: A Bill Written by Citigroup Becomes Law
Another provision secretly attached to the “must sign” 2015 funding law was the text of an old House of Representatives bill, written by Citigroup lobbyists, which had not passed the Senate and had received a veto threat by President Obama. The bill - now law - gutted what is known as the push-out rule, which forced banks to gamble with the riskiest derivatives in separate subsidiaries that are not insured by the FDIC - not insured with taxpayer money. Thanks to the last minute attachment, the banks can trade risky derivatives in banks that house our deposits and be eligible for taxpayer funded bailouts if their deals go sour again.
The bill was originally written - or, more accurately, copied from Citigroup lobbyists - by Rep. Randy Hultgren of Illinois, who has taken at least $609,600 from the financial industry.The provision was slipped into the 2015 funding law by Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas, who has taken over $700,000 from the financial industry.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC its affiliates, or its employees.
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