Tuesday, June 17, 2008

No Wonder Congress Can't Get Anything Done.

A few months back, I blogged about my Congressional Representative (and I use that term lightly) Albert Wynn's decision to bail out of his job 6 months early so he could cash in as a lobbyist. This act of cowardice lead to a completely unnecessary (and costly) special election today in which the Donna Edwards (pictured on the right... duh), who trounced Wynn during the Democratic primary will likely dust off her token Republican opposition and take office months in advance. It's a really convoluted and completely superfluous cluster**** that made me consider moving to West Virginia, albeit briefly.

Wynn's official rationale for quitting an elected position six months early was so that he could give his successor a "head start" on "fixing the problems in Washington". Anyone with half a brain knows this is complete bull. Wynn is no different than any other elected official. They "serve" just long enough to build up enough connections, then they become lobbyists and get caked up. It's not anything new, but recent reforms have made it more difficult to get pizzaid immediately after you get out of office.

Thus, you find many folks, like Wynn and even Trent Lott hitting the early-escape hatch. This either leaves their constituents without representation or footing the bill for such a $2M special election as the one happening in Maryland today. A special election in which I will not be taking part, since I voted for neither Edwards (who ominously got 85% of her campaign funding from out-of-state) nor Wynn (for some very obvious reasons).

Being an apathetic voter has never felt so liberating.

Anyways, The Post ran an interesting story today on Wynn, as well as other local politicians and their financial disclosures that paints a grim picture of just how (un)savvy these folks are on some very basic monetary issues.

Namely: a lot of Congressmen, despite making over $170k annually, are flat assed broke.

In case anyone was wondering why Albert R. Wynn quit Congress early to join a major. lobbying law firm, another possible clue emerged yesterday. The House of Representatives released members' 2007 financial disclosure forms and Wynn once again appeared near the bottom of the wealth rankings. He reported just one asset, a Maryland college fund account worth $1,001 to $15,000. He listed credit card debt in the same range.

The eight-term Democrat, who lost a primary this year, stunned colleagues by announcing that he would leave Congress by June to become a partner at Dickstein Shapiro. The firm's partners on average make slightly more than $1 million a year, according to a survey by American Lawyer.

Reached at his new office, Wynn said, "I really don't have any comment" about the move, which created the need for a special election in Maryland's 4th Congressional District.

Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.), who was indicted by a federal grand jury last year on charges that he used his position to solicit bribes, saw his legal defense fund take in $20,300 last year, down from $56,250 in 2006. Jefferson, who is running for reelection as he awaits trial, owes a hefty sum to Robert Johnson, the billionaire founder of Black Entertainment Television, according to the forms. He took a personal loan from Johnson worth $100,000 to $250,000 in 2006, and he still listed that amount as a debt in the report yesterday.

Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.), whose home in Virginia was raided last year in connection with the probe of imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff's ties to Congress, reported $15,001 to $50,000 in credit card debt, a similar range to what he reported last year.

Virginia Rep. James P. Moran Jr.'s personal debts led him into politically embarrassing transactions in previous years. In 1998, for instance, Moran averted bankruptcy through a $447,000 mortgage refinancing package from the lender MBNA that loan experts called overly generous. The loan was granted as Moran was supporting a bankruptcy bill favorable to MBNA and other large credit card companies.
The story focused on DC area politicians, but I'm sure our urreah is no different than the rest of the nation.

I'm not incredibly surprised by any of this, but it does make you think. Aren't the folks on Capitol Hill allegedly supposed to be our best and brightest? Shouldn't they be smart enough to know how to balance a checkbook and not just whip out the Mastercard for any ole' transaction?

Simply put, shouldn't they know better? Shouldn't we hold them to a higher standard? Hell, I don't pretend to be a legislative whiz, but I sure know the difference between cash and charge. If you paid me $170k/year, paid for practically all my meals and transpo, and only asked me to work 4 days a week, the very least I could give you in return is a positive personal balance sheet and not embarass you in the papers. As is, these guys look like idiots.

That said, it's not surprising that very little actually gets done, and worse, many of these guys end up taking under-the-table money or worse, getting caught red-handed with $90k in cash wrapped in tin-foil in a deep freezer, like the fine Rep. Jefferson, who somehow manages to keep getting re-elected.

And maybe that's the problem with all of this: so few of us pay any attention to our elected officials, except when it's time to re-elect them, if then.

Question: What do you think of Albert Wynn's "quit early/cash-in sooner" technique? Are you alarmed that so many elected representatives can't balance a checkbook, or is this simply a sign of the financial times?

Wynn Discloses Modest Holdings [WashPost]

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