By Howard Goodman
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Two Florida members of Congress appear on a list of lawmakers who steered millions in taxpayer dollars to businesses that employed their children.
Corrine Brown, a Democrat from Jacksonville, helped secured $23.7 million to clients of a lobbying firm where he daughter works.
C.W. Bill Young, a Republican from St. Petersburg, helped nab $73 million for companies that employed his sons.
They were among 16 members of Congress who took actions that benefited members of their families, according to an investigation by the Washington Post. The Post examined the financial disclosure forms of all 535 members of the U.S. House and Senate and compared them with thousands of public records.
About Connie Brown, the Post writes:
Spending with family connections: $23.7 million
Between 2005 and 2010, Brown helped secure $21.9 million for six clients of a lobbying firm where her daughter works. The clients paid the firm more than $1 million to represent them before Congress. Brown was the sole sponsor of $1.79 million in earmarks sent to a seventh client, the Community Rehabilitation Center, while her daughter worked as a lobbyist on behalf of the center, the Florida Times-Union reported in 2010. The congresswoman declined requests for an interview. Her daughter did not respond to requests for comment.
The newspaper went on to say that Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, was a co-sponsor of the $750,000 earmark for the rehabilitation center. But when he discovered that Brown’s daughter was a lobbyist for the center, he withdrew his support.
“We try to do our due diligence. The center had the backing of many community leaders,” Nelson spokesman Bryan Gulley told the Post. “But when we learned her daughter was involved in lobbying for the center, that raised enough concerns that we no longer supported the project.”
The Post said this about Young:
Spending with family connections: $73.2 million
Over a decade, Young helped secure $73 million for companies that employed his sons, according to the St. Petersburg Times. One worked as a security administrator in the St. Petersburg office of Science Applications International Corp., a defense contractor; the other as an outreach specialist for the National Forensic Science Technology Center. Young’s spokesman did not respond to requests for comment. Young told the Times in a 2008 story that the earmarks were based on merit, not because the programs employed his sons.
Those lawmakers who did speak to the Post insisted that the money wasn’t intended to directly help their kin, but was meant to support worthy projects for the lawmakers’ home communities.
Who sets the ethical rules for lawmakers? Why, the lawmakers themselves!
“The executive branch has far stricter ethics standards than Congress does — and Congress has set these standards,” said Craig Holman of Public Citizen, a nonprofit government watchdog group. “The executive branch can’t steer contracts or work to businesses where family members work. They can’t even own stock in industries that they oversee, unlike Congress. It’s complete hypocrisy.”
Meanwhile, in a step forward, the House and Senate have each passed legislation to tighten rules against lawmakers using their inside knowledge to trade on the stock market.
And, separately, the Office of Congressional Ethics is investigating the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Spencer Bachus, a Republican from Alabama, regarding possible violations of existing insider-trading laws — the first such case involving a member of Congress. Bachus, reports the Washington Post, “holds one of the most influential positions in the House, [and] has been a frequent trader on Capitol Hill, buying stock options while overseeing the nation’s banking and financial services industries.”
Incidentally, the Post says the impetus for the new legislation came from a book, Throw Them All Out, by Peter Schweizer, which mentioned Bachus’ trades. Let’s hear it for investigative reporting!