Brendan Pringle is an English senior and Mustang Daily conservative columnist.
Wall Street may seem like the symbol of “big money” and greed to most Americans, but some of the greatest flow of money happens at our nation’s capital. As a result, it should be no surprise that our federal lawmakers make some of their most profitable investments in Washington.
I’m not referring to illicit campaign bribes or anything of the like. I’m talking about the legal maneuvers our trusted lawmakers pull while writing laws.
The Occupy Wall Street Movement has clearly painted an image of the 1 percent as evil, greedy business moguls that have centralized their wealth through corporate greed and corruption. These “bad guys” are the so-called 1 percent (those worth $370,000 or more) who “deprive” the 99 percent of all opportunity.
So plays the broken record on our streets and on our TV screens.
But these protestors should really bring their mass-produced picket signs and incoherent chants to Capitol Hill, where many “1 percent-ers” actually conduct business. Just to give you an idea, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein reportedly holds between $46 million and $108 million, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has an average worth of $58 million and our local representative Lois Capps has a net worth that ranges from negative $3.9 million to positive $4.2 million (the range reflects mortgage liabilities). Those are some hefty pocketbooks.
Amidst this data, Common Cause regional director Derek Cressman argued in The Tribune: “If we want a government of the people and by the people … you’d want 99 percent of the members of Congress coming from the 99 percent of society…”
This may sound reasonable to some, but Cressman misses the boat completely. Many congressmen actually acquire this vast amount of wealth while in Congress.
As Hoover Institution fellow Peter Schweizer argued on “60 Minutes” last Sunday night, “There are all kinds of ‘honest graft’ that congressmen engage in that allow them to become very wealthy.” Ironically, laws that prohibit such corrupt activities as “insider trading” and “conflict of interest” from the executive and judicial branches do not apply to Congress.
Schweizer said “the people who make the rules are the political class in Washington, and they’ve conveniently written them so they don’t apply to themselves.” As a result, most congressmen leave Washington with more money than they had when they arrived.
Exhibit A: Representative Nancy Pelosi
As Speaker of the House, Pelosi (and her husband) purchased 5,000 shares of Visa at an initial price of $44, within two days, it rose to $64 a share, while a piece of credit card legislation involving “swipe fees” was floating through the House. Interestingly enough, the legislation didn’t make it to the floor for another two years.
Pelosi has since pledged solidarity in the Occupy Wall Street movement with several other hypocritical 1-percenters such as Michael Moore and Al Gore. After all, someone’s got to do something about those evil capitalists!
Exhibit B: Senator John Kerry
As one of the wealthiest members of the Senate, it’s no surprise that Kerry and his wife traded big time in the pharmaceutical industry at “around the time of the 2003 Medicare overhaul.” These “prescient investments” earned the Kerrys between $500,000 and $2 million. Apparently the ketchup fortune wasn’t enough.
To be fair, this corrupt (albeit legal) behavior occurs on both sides of the fence.
Exhibit C: Dennis Hastert
Former Speaker Hastert made millions by tacking on a $207 million earmark to build the Prairie Parkway through the cornfields near his home. He also bought some land where the highway is supposed to go.
Exhibit D: John Boehner
And finally, current Speaker John Boehner suspiciously traded health care stocks during the 2009 health care debate. With such blatant insider information to members of Congress, it’s hard to resist taking advantage of it.
What’s even scarier? This “honest grafting” has turned into a $100 million industry called “political intelligence.” Former congressmen and former staffers scour the halls of the Capitol gathering valuable, nonpublic information, then sell it to hedge funds and other traders on Wall Street who can trade on it.
Schweizer is absolutely correct in advocating a “zero tolerance policy” for this kind of corruption. Politics set aside, such deals are unethical and unfair to the rest of us who exist outside of the political “elite.”
It is this sort of behavior that creates an unfair market for the rest of us and veritably reduces opportunity. What’s the point of investing in the stock market if someone else always has an unfair advantage? Congressmen have plenty of perks; why should they be able to create more for themselves? While greed is often hard to pinpoint, dishonesty is difficult to hide.
As we approach the 2012 Elections, honesty and ethics should shadow all other issues in congressional races, and must be addressed before any new or incumbent candidate takes their seat. If Washington doesn’t know we’re watching, then we might as well prepare for more of the same.