Corruption: Politicians who arrive in Washington as men and women of modest means leave as millionaires


Mark Twain famously wrote, "There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress." Peter Schweizer's new book, "Throw Them All Out," reveals this permanent political class in all its arrogant glory. (Full disclosure: Mr. Schweizer is employed by my political action committee as a foreign-policy adviser.)

Mr. Schweizer answers the questions so many of us have asked. I addressed this in a speech in Iowa last Labor Day weekend. How do politicians who arrive in Washington, D.C. as men and women of modest means leave as millionaires? How do they miraculously accumulate wealth at a rate faster than the rest of us? How do politicians' stock portfolios outperform even the best hedge-fund managers'? I answered the question in that speech: Politicians derive power from the authority of their office and their access to our tax dollars, and they use that power to enrich and shield themselves.

The money-making opportunities for politicians are myriad, and Mr. Schweizer details the most lucrative methods: accepting sweetheart gifts of IPO stock from companies seeking to influence legislation, practicing insider trading with nonpublic government information, earmarking projects that benefit personal real estate holdings, and even subtly extorting campaign donations through the threat of legislation unfavorable to an industry. The list goes on and on, and it's sickening.

Astonishingly, none of this is technically illegal, at least not for Congress. Members of Congress exempt themselves from the laws they apply to the rest of us. That includes laws that protect whistleblowers (nothing prevents members of Congress from retaliating against staffers who shine light on corruption) and Freedom of Information Act requests (it's easier to get classified documents from the CIA than from a congressional office).

The corruption isn't confined to one political party or just a few bad apples. It's an endemic problem encompassing leadership on both sides of the aisle. It's an entire system of public servants feathering their own nests.

None of this surprises me. I've been fighting this type of corruption and cronyism my entire political career. For years Alaskans suspected that our lawmakers and state administrators were in the pockets of the big oil companies to the detriment of ordinary Alaskans. We knew we were being taken for a ride, but it took FBI wiretaps to finally capture lawmakers in the act of selling their votes. In the wake of politicos being carted off to prison, my administration enacted reforms based on transparency and accountability to prevent this from happening again.

We were successful because we had the righteous indignation of Alaskan citizens on our side. Our good ol' boy political class in Juneau was definitely not with us. Business was good for them, so why would they want to end "business as usual"?

The moment you threaten to strip politicians of their legal graft, they'll moan that they can't govern effectively without it. Perhaps they'll gravitate toward reform, but often their idea of reform is to limit the right of "We the people" to exercise our freedom of speech in the political process.

I've learned from local, state and national political experience that the only solution to entrenched corruption is sudden and relentless reform. Sudden because our permanent political class is adept at changing the subject to divert the public's attention—and we can no longer afford to be indifferent to this system of graft when our country is going bankrupt. Reform must be relentless because fighting corruption is like a game of whack-a-mole. You knock it down in one area only to see it pop up in another.


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