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Like a shoplifter’s long coat, a politician’s suit comes with an astonishing assortment of inside pockets – and a report by USA Today reveals that hundreds of lawmakers are eagerly stuffing each one of theirs with special-interest influence money.
Take the “foundation pocket.” Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican created the Barton Family Foundation, which has become a handy place for corporate interests to stash cash and earn Joe’s appreciation. For example, Exelon, a nuclear-powered electric company, generously donated $75,000. Did I mention that Barton is the top Republican on the house energy committee and often does legislative favors for the nuclear industry? Joe can’t even pretend that he doesn’t know who gives to his foundation, since he personally wrote to Exelon’s CEO to solicit the money!
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Then there’s the “institute pocket.” In Boston, Democrat Ted Kennedy is setting up an “Institute for the United States Senate,” which will be named for – guess who? – himself. Amgen, the giant drug maker, slipped a cool $5 million into this pocket. Coincidentally, Kennedy chairs the senate health committee and is a key player in the current effort to reform America’s health care system. Not that the donation is intended to influence Sen. Kennedy’s positions, of course. A corporate spokesperson says that the $5 million merely reflects Amgen’s interest in helping “young people become engaged in public service and public policy.”
There’s even a small but influential “portrait pocket” sewn into the suits of such powerful congress critters as Rep. Jerry Lewis. The California Republican, a past-chairman of the appropriations committee, got ego-stroking money from lobbyists to have an oil painting of himself hung in the committee room.
If you notice that your own representatives are looking a little lumpy, check their pockets.
“Lobbyists unlimited in honoring lawmakers,” USA Today, June 8, 2009.