The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.
Backroom deals and crony capitalism have become a pervasive part of Washington D.C. and throughout governments at all levels. Politicians have far too often acted as self-servants rather than public servants. Actions, like engaging in insider trading which is illegal for the average Americans, are perfectly legal for members of Congress. While such actions have become commonplace, little has been done to effectively root out these unethical practices in Washington and beyond. There are two women –one a Republican and one a Democrat—who are drawing attention to the corrupt practices of Congress and proposing solid reforms to help clean up Washington.
In September, former Republican Alaska Governor Sarah Palin gave a speech that transcended party lines where she focused in part on the crony capitalism of Washington and the self-serving behaviors of “permanent political class”:
Yeah, the permanent political class – they’re doing just fine. Ever notice how so many of them arrive in Washington, D.C. of modest means and then miraculously throughout the years they end up becoming very, very wealthy? Well, it’s because they derive power and their wealth from their access to our money – to taxpayer dollars. They use it to bail out their friends on Wall Street and their corporate cronies, and to reward campaign contributors, and to buy votes via earmarks. There is so much waste. And there is a name for this: It’s called corporate crony capitalism. This is not the capitalism of free men and free markets, of innovation and hard work and ethics, of sacrifice and of risk. No, this is the capitalism of connections and government bailouts and handouts, of waste and influence peddling and corporate welfare. This is the crony capitalism that destroyed Europe’s economies. It’s the collusion of big government and big business and big finance to the detriment of all the rest – to the little guys. It’s a slap in the face to our small business owners – the true entrepreneurs, the job creators accounting for 70% of the jobs in America, it’s you who own these small businesses, you’re the economic engine, but you don’t grease the wheels of government power.
Concurrent with the Solyndra scandal, where the Obama administration gave a government loan to an Obama donor connected company that later went bankrupt, Governor Palin effectively articulated a large part of the frustration that the American people have with the disconnect between Washington and the American people.
What allowed Governor Palin’s message to resonate so strongly was that she practiced what she preached when it comes to ethical government and the inappropriate relationships between government and business. As Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin focused on government reform and transparency. She turned away campaign donations where there was a potential for a conflict of interest. She did not allow lobbyists in her office. Governor Palin also championed an ethics reform bill that tightened restrictions on lobbyists, campaign donations and the revolving door between government and lobbying. She put the state checkbook online so that her constituents could see where every dollar of taxpayer money was being spent. Her fight against corruption was not only in rhetoric, but in action.
“Crony capitalism” has become part of the American vernacular over these past few months, and the concerns with such practices in Washington continued following a recent 60 Minutes segment that highlighted the findings in a book, Throw Them All Out, by Palin adviser Peter Schweizer. One area of cronyism and self-dealing that Peter Schweizer highlighted was Congress’ ability to engage in insider trading without any legal repercussions. While not illegal, such practices are unethical and plague both parties from Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to the ranking Republican on the House Finance Committee Spencer Bachus. Schweizer’s book charges that both of these House members among others engaged in insider trading (that is illegal for the rest of us) to fill their own bank accounts based upon their inside information as legislators.
Such news has led some members of Congress to propose legislation to make insider trading illegal. One of these individual sponsoring such legislation is Democratic New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand:
Senator Gillibrand’s bill would make insider trading by Congress illegal and allow the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to prosecute any members of the House or Senate engaging in such practices. Like Governor Palin, Senator Gillibrand has a record to back up her call for a more ethical Washington D.C.. As a member of the House, then Congresswoman Gillibrand listed her daily schedule, including what lobbyists or campaign donors she met with, and shared both her earmark requests and her personal financial statement as a means of transparency in government. She also is a strong advocate for Wall Street and campaign finance reform. Senator Gillibrand’s current proposal of reform is indicative of the transparency she has made part of her public service throughout her time in Washington D.C.
Although not currently an office holder or candidate, Governor Palin also proposed a series of Congressional reforms in a recent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal:
What are the solutions? We need reform that provides real transparency. Congress should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act like everyone else. We need more detailed financial disclosure reports, and members should submit reports much more often than once a year. All stock transactions above $5,000 should be disclosed within five days.
We need equality under the law. From now on, laws that apply to the private sector must apply to Congress, including whistleblower, conflict-of-interest and insider-trading laws. Trading on nonpublic government information should be illegal both for those who pass on the information and those who trade on it. (This should close the loophole of the blind trusts that aren’t really blind because they’re managed by family members or friends.)
No more sweetheart land deals with campaign contributors. No gifts of IPO shares. No trading of stocks related to committee assignments. No earmarks where the congressman receives a direct benefit. No accepting campaign contributions while Congress is in session. No lobbyists as family members, and no transitioning into a lobbying career after leaving office. No more revolving door, ever.
There was a time when women’s roles were relegated to only cleaning house. Now, women are striving to clean House (and Senate) of crony capitalism and unethical behavior. This is not an issue of right and left, as women of both parties have addressed the need for government reform. It is an issue of right and wrong, and it transcends party politics. Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of engaging in unethical and self serving behaviors, and women of both parties are making it a goal to reform government and make it more transparent. In a time where America is divided on so many issues, these two women are using their individual influence to propose changes that all Americans can agree on. It would serve our nation well if other female (and male) politicians follow the bipartisan lead of Governor Palin and Senator Gillibrand.