’60 Minutes’ piece hits close to home

renee_ellmers_AP

 

 

 

The legendary CBS program had a segment this past weekend that confirmed something for us –  There’s not much difference between the Congress and the mafia:

[...] Peter Schweizer, is an author and fellow at the Hoover Institution. For the past few years, he and a team of researchers have been investigating the way congressmen and senators have personally benefited from the hundreds of millions of dollars in political contributions that have poured into the system.

Steve Kroft: I think most people have the impression that campaign funds cannot be used for personal expenses. Is that true?

Peter Schwiezer: Yes. Regular campaign funds cannot, that’s correct. But there are ways around it. Like all things in Washington, the devil is in the details, and loopholes are usually put in place for a reason.

For example, when Congress passed the Ethics Reform Act of 1989, it plainly stated “a member shall convert no campaign funds to personal use.” But soon afterwards congressional leaders quietly invented something called leadership PACs, political action committees that were not technically campaign funds and thus exempt from the personal use prohibition.

Steve Kroft: This is a loophole?

Trevor Potter: Right. That’s correct.

Trevor Potter is a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. He says it didn’t take long for congressmen and senators to figure out the distinct advantages of having a Leadership PAC, with no restrictions.

Trevor Potter: Since they weren’t around when the ban on personal use was put into place, they’re not covered by it. And they can be used for literally anything.

Over time the leadership PACs that were created as a way for congressional leaders of both parties, to raise money and distribute it to their members, have evolved into something different. Today, nearly every congressman and senator has a leadership PAC, not just the leaders. And they are used to solicit contributions from friends and supporters in order to advance their political agendas, their careers and, in many cases, their lifestyle.

Steve Kroft: It’s like a political slush fund.

Trevor Potter: That’s exactly what it is. It’s a political slush fund. Over time, we’ve had them. They’ve been outlawed. They spring back in new guises, and this is the latest guise.

Potter says they are essentially personal political expense accounts financed largely by lobbyists and special interest groups. Leadership PACs are now the second largest political revenue stream for members of Congress.

Peter Schwiezer: You can use them for babysitting, paying for babysitters. You can use them for paying for car service. You can use them for travel. Nobody’s really checking to see whether this is personal or legitimate business expense.

Back in 2006, North Carolina senator and presidential candidate John Edwards used his leadership PAC to pay his mistress Rielle Hunter $114,000 to make a campaign video.

[...]

Peter Schweizer: Look, they’re not having leadership PAC meetings at the Hampton Inn down the road. They’re going to the premier golfing and resorts in the United States and in– sometimes around the world. And that’s ostensibly where they’re doing this leadership PAC work.

For example, Democratic Congressman Robert Andrews of New Jersey used $16,000 from his leadership PAC “the committee to strengthen America” to fly his family to Scotland, ostensibly to attend the wedding of a friend that he was thinking about hiring as a political consultant.

[...]

As my friend Gomer Pyle used to say:  Surprise. Surprise.  Second District congresswoman — and recent burglary victim — Renee Ellmers has one of these leadership PACs. 

THAT may explain all of the trips to Vegas, Chicago, and Colorado ski resorts that we reported on during the 2012 primary season.

Sarah Palin tosses in her two cents on the subject:

[...] Washington has morphed into an extortion racket, a place where members of the permanent political class threaten to inflict legislative and regulatory pain to extract campaign donations that they can then siphon into the pockets of themselves and their family members.

In a new book featured this Sunday on 60 Minutes titled Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets, Peter Schweizer explains how Washington politicians use a set of mafia-style legislative tactics to extort people and industries into donating to them out of fear of political and legal reprisals.

Schweizer interviewed former Chairman of Apache Corporation Ray Plank. Plank said campaign cash and lobbying contracts now function as “protection money” to keep lawmakers and regulators from going after you.

“It’s what you expect from the mafia,” said Plank. “They basically come to you and say, ‘We are going to shove this bat up your ass and give you an enema. You better play ball.’ We saw a great deal of it. It’s an insidious blight.”

There are left-wing progressives on Wall Street and in the high-tech world who bankrolled President Obama’s campaign because they love his radical agenda. But as Schweizer points out, many gave because they know they have to; if they don’t, Obama will come after them.

[...]But what about the rest of us? What about the average American mom and dad just trying to stay afloat in the disastrous Obama economy? We don’t have the funds to throw “protection money” at the political extortionists in Washington who are eager to foist things like Obamacare on us. Only Obama’s union cronies and members of the permanent political class are given Obamacare waivers and spared the pain of the policies D.C. inflicts on the rest of us. Big business got an Obamacare exemption that Obama refuses to give ordinary individuals who can’t even sign up for Obamacare on the broken exchange websites, but they’ll still be fined for not doing so!

And what about the GOP establishment? Why haven’t they been able to clean up the extortion racket in Washington? You have to ask yourself, has the party machine fought this corruption or does it participate in it? As a senior House Republican told Fox News on Thursday, it’s “highly unlikely” Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will be challenged because few have the muscle to match his ability to “raise money.”

In fact, the ability to raise money is apparently key to all the power in Washington. Here’s how bad it’s gotten: the Democratic and Republican Parties actually have a secret price list—officially known as “party dues”—that tells members of Congress how much money they must extract from donors in order to win a chairmanship or a top slot on a powerful Congressional committee. Schweizer somehow obtained the top-secret lists and included the never-before-published documents in Extortion.

[...]

It’s time for Washington to stop threatening citizens and scaring up dollars through an endless extortion scheme of manufactured crises. It’s time for leaders to lead. That means doing right by voters without requiring them to pay protection money in advance.

You have to wonder whether Constitutional rule of law even exists when separate rules apply for powerful and well-connected men like Jon Corzine. And you have to wonder whether we really have government of the people, by the people, and for the people when the only way We the People can be heard is if we grease the palms of the ruling class.

[...]

 

2 comments for “’60 Minutes’ piece hits close to home

  1. Raphael
    October 25, 2013 at 1:32 am

    There are some legitimate leadership PACs like Senator Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund, which is now a regular PAC since he has moved over to Heritage. But while he was in the Senate, it did solid work and spent its money helping elect conservatives to the US Senate. It is still one of the leading conservative groups in Senate primaries

    http://www.senateconservatives.com

    Using a Leadership PAC to pay for excursions to Vegas, on the other hand is pretty low.

  2. jr cooper
    October 25, 2013 at 10:00 am

    Reminds me of Easley’s last days when he went on the “Cheeseburger if Paradise Tour.” As I recall he and Mary went to Europe to arrange some museum exchanges. I’m thinking that Mercedes limo cost somewhere around $17,000. And I believe Easley informed us that “A cheeseburger with onion rings costs $60.00 over there.”

    But then again that trip was not paid for by a PAC. I believe that we, the taxpayers of NC, picked up the tab. What does that foie gras taste like anyway?

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