Don’t Tell Us The Public “Doesn’t Care” About Incompetence and Corruption. It Has to Care.

The Washington Post broke the ethics story of the weekend, documenting a blatant conflict of interest on Capitol Hill that has many members of Congress making decisions on legislation directly affecting companies in their stock portfolios, and trading the stock contemporaneously with those decisions.

Based on the depressing dialogue on the Sunday public affairs shows regarding the Fast and Furious scandal—-especially the dialogue issuing from panelists who have obviously received and memorized received the Obama Administration and Democratic Party talking points—-I would assume that the American people can’t be bothered with this matter, and think it is a waste of time. After all, according to panelist after panelist who was either a mainstream media pundit or an Obama surrogate, all the American people care about is the economy and jobs. The fact that the U.S. Justice Department may be run by incompetents and law-breakers—who cares? The fact that nobody gets fired for approving a policy that breaks laws and gets innocent people killed—so what? The American people are, we are told, one-track mind morons, unable to focus on more than one problem at a time, and incapable of seeing the interrelations between problems. I wonder–might the fact that Congress may be corrupt and the Executive Branch, including Justice, may be irresponsible and inept have any bearing on the ability of the government to oversee the economy effectively? Don’t be silly, former New Mexico Governor and Clinton acolyte Bill Richardson told us yesterday. The public isn’t that sophisticated. The public doesn’t care about who’s cheating, who’s breaking the law and who’s incompetent! The people only want to talk about jobs! So, apparently, that is all the journalists and pundits should talk about, and all that policymakers should spend their time on.

No wonder none of those Sunday shows spent any time on this Post front page story:

“One-hundred-thirty members of Congress or their families have traded stocks collectively worth hundreds of millions of dollars in companies lobbying on bills that came before their committees, a practice that is permitted under current ethics rules, a Washington Post analysis has found. The lawmakers bought and sold a total of between $85 million and $218 million in 323 companies registered to lobby on legislation that appeared before them, according to an examination of all 45,000 individual congressional stock transactions contained in computerized financial disclosure data from 2007 to 2010. Almost one in every eight trades — 5,531 — intersected with legislation. The 130 lawmakers traded stocks or bonds in companies as bills passed through their committees or while Congress was still considering the legislation. The party affiliation of the lawmakers was almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, 68 to 62.”

The Post went on to detail transactions in which Congress members voted to benefit companies in which they or their family members held stock. Other revelations:

  • More than thirty members of Congress changed their financial portfolios following phone calls or meetings with high-ranking Treasury and Fed officials during the economic crisis.
  • Thirty-three members of Congress and the Senate sent more than $300 million to public projects that are near their own property.
  •  Some Senators and members of Congress send federal funds to companies, colleges and community groups where members of their immediate family work.

Of course, yesterday’s talking-point purveyors were not only wrong, but offensively wrong. Issues like Justice Department incompetence and cover-ups and Congressional conflicts of interest are every bit as important as economic recovery, because they affect public trust in democracy, the rule of law, and our public institutions. If the public won’t force Congress and the Executive Branch to perform their responsibilities honestly, accountably and well, then it has no one to blame (other than the enabling news media, of course) if the nation fails, economically, politically and spiritually.

“If you have major responsibility for drafting legislation that directly affects particular companies, then you shouldn’t be trading in their stock,” the Post was told by  Dennis Thompson, a professor of public policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government who was one of several government ethics specialists interviews by the Post. “Committee chairs especially shouldn’t be in the position of potentially benefiting from trades in companies that stand to gain or lose from actions the committee takes.”

He doesn’t say that because such conflicts violate some arcane principles that don’t matter. He says this because when the legislature is filled with elected officials who place their own profit and welfare above the best interests of their constituents and the nation, democracy doesn’t work, and a shortage of jobs and a failing economy is only one of the nasty results. And when the public understands so little about the civic responsibilities of a free republic that they shrug their collective shoulders at the cancer of corruption, no problems, even those that a lapdog media assures us are the only ones that “matter,” can or will be solved.

It is the duty of the public to hold the government and its officers to high ethical standards, and the duty of the media to inform and inflame that public, not soothe it into apathy by telling them that they don’t and shouldn’t care. The Washington Post did its duty by exposing a serious appearance of impropriety in the Legislative Branch, deserves our gratitude. Now it’s the public’s job to refuse to tolerate it.


Facts and Source: Washington Post

Source: Meet the Press

Graphic: Squeeze the pulp

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at



4 thoughts on “Don’t Tell Us The Public “Doesn’t Care” About Incompetence and Corruption. It Has to Care.

  1. Jack, you obviously haven’t drunk enough of the Obama Kool-Aid. Now, drink up, please.

    In Congress, 241 Democrats, 289 Republicans. Corruption ratio: (D): 68/241= 0.28, (R): 62/289= 0.21. “Acceptable ratio”= <0.05?

      • In a perfect world, yes. Even in science, statistical variation is understood as something that cannot be eliminated. That is why I use the term “<0.05." In probability statistics, a conclusion estimated to occur by chance in fewer than 5 in 100 times is considered "proof" of a hypothesis. That's often the best you can do, and, where human behavior is concerned, the best you can probably reasonably expect. Just imagine how much of an oxymoron is the term, "saintly politican."

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