Saturday, February 24, 2018
Opinion

House largesse? It's all relative

Perhaps one way to look at this is to think The Waltons meets All the Kings Men. Holy smokes, the Habsburg clan wasn't this cronied up.

According to a new study by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, 248 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have used their elected positions to benefit themselves, family members and friends.

Well, you know what they say: "The family that cashes checks together stays together."

In all, some 82 members of the House on both sides of the aisle have paid family members through their congressional office, campaigns or political action committees. And 44 members have a family member who is either a lobbyist or works in government affairs, most notably Florida's Rep. John Mica, R-Micas to the Right, Micas to the Left. His son, two brothers, a nephew and a daughter all make their living in the schmoozing trade.

Then there are 90 House members who have paid a business, employer or a nonprofit organization associated with a family member.

And it's all legal, because in Washington ethics are a rarer commodity than a Judge Crater sighting.

Right about now you might be feeling cheated out of all the largesse because mom or dad failed you miserably by never running for Congress.

Perhaps it's not too late to get adopted by that paragon of rock-ribbed, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps champion of individual liberty, gadfly Republican presidential candidate Texas Rep. Ron Paul. He has paid fees or salaries to (take a breath) his daughter, brother, grandson, daughter's mother-in-law, granddaughter and grandson-in-law totaling more than $300,000.

What would you call this? The purse family?

A miffed Paul spokesman told the New York Times: "Any implication that there is anything inappropriate is wildly off base."

Of course there's nothing inappropriate about turning your legislative office into the Ming dynasty. That would require Washington to make all this stuff officially unethical instead of merely really hinky.

The CREW report is rife with examples of members of Congress funneling thousands of dollars to family members and friends for consulting work, reimbursements and office jobs.

In all, the group estimated that since 2008 members of Congress have paid $5.5 million in salaries and fees directly to family members. And a lot of these folks opposed stimulus money?

Of course, Florida figures prominently in the CREW report. It notes that Rep. Corrine Brown, D-We Are Family, has directed nearly $1 million to a Jacksonville rehabilitation center that is represented by her daughter Shantrel Brown-Fields' lobbying business.

Then there is Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-How Do I Love Thee? Between 2007 and 2010, he paid his significant other, Patricia Williams, $622,754, to serve as his deputy district director, a job no doubt filled with long hours of deputizing.

CREW also takes note of the gene pool clout of Indian Shores Republican Rep. C.W. Bill Young. He directed nearly $45 million to local defense contractor Science Applications International Corp., which by amazing coincidence also hired his son Patrick, who at the time had barely stopped teething.

The powerful congressman also directed $28.6 million in federal money to Forensic Science Technology Center in Largo, which by an equally amazing coincidence employed another son, Billy.

"It's really old news, is my first reaction," Young said Thursday. And he's right, since much of the CREW chapter on his generosity was first reported by the Times in 2008. Old? Maybe to the Tampa Bay area, but not necessarily to the rest of the country.

Young insisted he had absolutely nothing to do with the hiring of his sons. But he didn't have to. Does anyone doubt that the executives of these companies certainly had to know that hiring the sons of one of Washington's most clout-squared politicians, who has been in Congress so long he served with John Quincy Adams, would be a savvy move?

Really now, if you were the president of Amalgamated Gizmos in Cincinnati and you had a chance to hire even a slack-jawed relative of House Speaker John Boehner, wouldn't you be thinking about creating a corner office for your new deputy assistant vice president for coffeemaking?

Being singled out by the CREW report as part of the congressional nepotism caucus didn't seem particularly bothersome for Young. "I've been in this business most of my life," he said. "I'm used to it."

And maybe in the end, that's sort of the issue.

Spend enough time in the power corridors of Washington, and you can get used to shrugging off just about anything.

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