How is 97 percent of Congress able to get re-elected each year even though only 17 percent of the American people believe our representatives are doing a good job?
It’s called an incumbent protection system. Taxpayers have a right to know how it works.
Recently, our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com, mashed up the federal checkbook with the congressional campaign donor database (source: OpenSecrets.org). We found powerful members of Congress soliciting campaign donations from federal contractors based in their districts.
We followed the money and found a culture of conflict-of-interest. The confluence of federal money, campaign cash, private employment, investments, prestigious committee appointments, political power, nepotism, and other conflicts are a fact pattern.
Furthermore, members of Congress own investment stock in, are employed by, and receive retirement pensions from federal contractors to whom they direct billions of taxpayer dollars.
Moreover, members sponsor legislation that affects these contractors. The contractor’s lobbyists then advocate for the legislation that helps the member and the contractor. Oftentimes, the contractor’s lobbyist also donates campaign cash to the member.
Here are five case examples detailing the conflict-of-interest among five powerful members of Congress:
Rep. John Larson (D-CT1): United Technologies (UT) executives, employees, political action committee, and affiliated lobbyists are the #1 campaign donor to Larson’s committee ($377,050). UT collected federal grants (subsidies) $83.8 million and federal contracts $16.1 billion (2014-2018). Mr. Larson owns UT stock 2012-2018 (last disclosure). Larsen is a ranking member on House Ways and Means.
Seven years ago, Larson’s wife got a state job from the wife of a campaign donor, who was also the state insurance commissioner. She beat out 199 other candidates and was the only one to fill out a job application. Since her hiring, she’s earned an estimated $600,000 in cash compensation.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK4): The Chickasaw Nation and affiliates are the #1 campaign donor to Cole’s committee ($258,461). The Nation received $700 million in federal grants and $434,000 in surplus military equipment from the Pentagon, including mine-resistant vehicles, night vision goggles, mine-detecting sets, and rifles that shoot .308 rounds. Cole is a ranking member on House Appropriations.
Since 2002, Cole’s campaign committee has hired Cole’s private political consulting partnership: Cole, Hargrave, and Snodgrass. Cole’s campaign has paid his firm a total of $224,000.
Since 2003, Mr. Cole has earned roughly $320,000 in “management fees” from his firm – while also serving in Congress. He’s also disclosed receiving $175,000 – $575,000 in “dividends/capital gains” and his “equity interest” in the firm is listed as between $250,000 – $500,000.