Just hours after federal agents charged banker Allen Stanford with fleecing investors of $7 billion, the disgraced financier received a message from one of Congress’ most powerful members, Pete Sessions.
“I love you and believe in you,” said the e-mail sent on Feb. 17. “If you want my ear/voice — e-mail,” it said, signed “Pete.”
Heh, now that’s innocent, right?
Let’s talk about what’s going on here, because this is not limited to a handful of interests – it is in fact widespread and part and parcel of the corruption that has swept our nation.
The “revolving door” game – and the so-called “perks” of being a lawmaker, including the ability to travel to exotic (and expensive) places on the dole of others – has always been an issue.
In the last 20 years it has become completely out of control.
Stanford hosted New York Congressman John Sweeney’s wedding dinner at his five-star restaurant in Antigua in 2004 — toasting the couple for photographers — and staged a cocktail fundraiser for now-disgraced Ohio congressman Bob Ney at his bayfront Miami office.
Why is this legal at all?
Part of the duty of a Congressperson is what is called “honest service.” How can one legitimately make the argument that you are providing that “honest service” when this sort of thing is going on left, right and center, with the clear intent of scuttling bills that would harm you?
Over the years, he took on battles to protect his banking network while fending off regulators.
In 2001, he pressed successfully to kill a bill that would have exposed the flow of millions into his secretive offshore bank in Antigua.
The next year, he helped block legislation that would have drawn more government scrutiny to his bank.
And let’s remember, he is accused of basically stealing the money.
Now tell me how different this is from Henry Paulson showing up at the SEC’s office to press for, and receive, a removal of leverage limits from the Investment Banks – an act that then allowed big Wall Street firms to package up trash loans into securities, shop ratings to get that coveted “AAA” and then sell them off to unsuspecting rubes – who in turn took huge losses in 2007 and 2008?
I argue there is no difference.
There is a fine line between a “campaign contribution” and a “bribe”. The law defines it in one place – an explicit “quid pro quo.”
I define it somewhere else: influence, irrespective of how gained, with or without explicit promises to act (or not act as the case may be.)
It began in 2003, when lawmakers including Sessions, Ney, Sweeney, Gregory Meeks, Donald Payne, Max Sandlin and Phil Crane arrived in Antigua on a mission to “promote relations” with the Caribbean nation.
The cost of the January trip — including nights in luxury hotels and two Stanford jets for travel — came to $39,500, records show.
For four days, they gathered for talks on business in the Caribbean, trading jokes with Prime Minister Lester Bird and touring the island.
In time, the group of lawmakers, which became known as the “Caribbean Caucus,” would take 11 more trips — the costs picked up by the Inter-American Economic Council, a nonprofit funded by Stanford.
Promote relations eh?
Remember my note about “Caribbean Banking Centers” allegedly owning over $200 billion in Treasury instruments?
Where did the money come from to buy those?
Is it drug money? Or is it just under-the-table “grease” (and lots of it) put forward by American interests to literally buy legislation they want, and kill legislation they don’t?
Which is more harmful? Some ganja-loving hippie smoking a joint in his living room, or the corruption of our political process to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, making the entire legislative process nothing more or less than an extension of corporate board rooms seeking to legitimate that which either disadvantages ordinary people or worse, is outright fraudulent on it’s face.
I know what I believe, and so-called “Campaign Finance Reform” was supposed to fix it. It didn’t because it failed to force disclosure.
Look, The First Amendment is incompatible with the concept of restricting speech, and money buys speech. So let’s cut the unconstitutional nonsense.
It is plenty sufficient to force each and every donation to be fully disclosed in real time, and further, to absolutely ban the expenditure of funds by anyone for these junkets and similar events.
I am already forbidden to give anything of material value to a Congressperson as a natural person. Why is it that we allow non-profits (funded by for-profit firms and individuals!) to pay for these sorts of “junkets”? Whether someone is acting formally “for profit” or not should not be the test!
In any event I have no expectation that we will see meaningful reform in this regard any time soon, as the American Sheeple continue to sit back and allow this sort of nonsense to happen. In the case of Stanford it appears that the result was the theft of billions of dollars, but if you look inside most of the legislation passed over the last 100 years, dating all the way back to Harry Anslinger, who it certainly can be argued obtained his strong “anti-marijuana” stance not from principle or personal belief, but rather as a means of protecting the multi-billion dollar Hearst paper and publishing empire.
Evidence? Plenty, including Anslinger’s attempt to halt a joint ABA/AMA report on criminalization of drugs – a paper intended to shine the white light of reason on the debate from the perspective of both practitioners of law and medicine.
There are lessons here that are as old as The Republic, if we care to listen. They’re not limited to a few examples like Stanford, although those, being the most sensational, do of course draw the press.
Rather they are pervasive and found throughout politics, and if we are to ever disentangle “the vampire squids” that engulf public policy, whether it be in relationship to narcotics (upon which we blow tens of billions of dollars without meaningful effect) or the intoxication garnered by deceptive and outrageous practices in the securities markets we must put a stop to the junket train by treating all equally, ban the provision of “gifts” to lawmakers from any source whatsoever (including junkets and similar entreaties) and force the reporting of all “campaign contributions” in real time, with specificity.
At the same time we should mandate that all lobbying contacts take place either in written form (and be immediately published for consumption by the public) or that they be taped (audio and video) and similarly distributed immediately.
After all, if Congress is “The People’s House” and these are allegedly our elected representatives, do we not have a right to know what these mendacious vipers are up to?
I think so.