There are a lot of perks that come from being related to a member of Congress, not the least of which is a heightened shot at receiving a cushy job. As a terrific Washington Post expose reveals, over the past five years, 56 family members of federal legislators were employed by lobbying firms in order to protect major corporate interests.
Although it may seem unethical, it isnít actually prohibited to, say, hire a Representativeís child to lobby on behalf of a bill that is being considered by his or her parentís Congressional committee.
Here are four such egregious examples that The Washington Post detailed of how Congressional relatives pushed the boundaries of conflicts of interest in their lobbying efforts. While every instance includes assurance from the involved parties that nothing unethical transpired, considering that 6 out of 7 such lobbyists were hired only AFTER their relatives were elected into office, it seems hard to believe that Ė at the least Ė the companies spending hundreds of millions on these lobbying efforts werenít hoping to benefit from some familial influence.
1. Republican Tennessee Senator Bob Corker likes his former staffer Justin Spickard enough to permit him to marry his daughter. About the time he became Corkerís son-in-law last year, Spickard gained employment as a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute.
Since then, six bills Spickard lobbied for passed through Corkerís committees. Corker even co-sponsored a bill to push through the Keystone Pipeline, which happens to be Spickardís pet project. Spickardís firm notes that while there are no rules or laws that would disallow Spickard from lobbying his father-in-law, that still no such interactions have taken place.
2. After Missouri Democrat William Lacy Clay retired from the House in 2000, his son William Lacy Clay Jr. won his seat. Like many former Congresspeople, rather than getting out of politics altogether, Clay Sr. actually transitioned into lobbying, with his new firm receiving more than $200,000 from attorneys who represent investors.
Meanwhile, Representative Clay Jr. offered Congress a bill that would provide additional legal rights to defrauded investors Ė a certain boon for attorneys representing these investors. The overlap between the father and sonís interest is merely a coincidence, apparently. Clay Jr. insists he had no discussions with his dad on the subject.
3. Throughout Bill Emersonís 16 years of service in the House, his wife, Jo Ann Emerson, worked as a lobbyist for insurance and restaurant businesses. Once her husband died, Emerson took over his seat and in time served on a number of budgetary committees, including one in charge of both the Agriculture Department and FDA. Already, thatís a lot of conflicts of interest, but this story has only just begun.
Now Emersonís two daughters are lobbyists Ė one for General Motors and one for Monsanto. Combined, the two companies have spent more than $12 million lobbying Congress and have seen 25 bills that benefit them go through Emersonís committees. Moreover, Emerson herself has sponsored 17 bills that are friendly to GM and Monsantoís interests.
Representative Emerson claims to ďnever everĒ discuss work with her daughters, despite that being a frequent conversation topic amongst most parents and grown children I know. For what itís worth, the always trustworthy Monsanto says, ďAny employee of Monsanto may not lobby their own relativesÖ we understand that our policy is more than the law requires.Ē
The good news is that Emerson will be giving up her seat in a couple of months. Except that itís not really good news, since the corruption just gets deeper. Despite winning her re-election bid in November in a landslide, she has lined up a job to lead the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, a lobbying firm. It is speculated that she will earn nearly $2 million annually in this role. Although she wonít yet be compensated by the lobbyists during her last weeks of Congressional voting, it seems fair to question her allegiance to the people given her upcoming professional trajectory.
4. Even Nevada Democrat Harry Reid, a sponsor of the Senate ethics bill, has some dubious connections. Reidís son-in-law, Steven Barringer, has worked as a lobbyist for the city of Henderson. The city has spent hundreds of thousands on lawyers, including Barringer, to advocate for certain bills Ė many of which ultimately failed — but were supported by Reid nonetheless.
Still, Henderson did profit marginally from legislation that Reid helped pass. Then, in 2011, Henderson named Harryís son, Josh Reid, the city attorney. Harry Reidís spokesperson gave the usual ďReidís family did not influence his decisionsĒ statement.
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