Corruption in the US Congress

There is a thought-provoking paper in the Cornell Law Review by Zephyr Teachout on corruption in the body politic. He states that the founding fathers of the US Constitution had a broad definition of corruption

To the Delegates, political corruption referred to self-serving use of public power for private ends, including, without limitation, bribery, public decisions to serve private wealth made because of dependent relationships, public decisions to serve executive power made because of dependent relationships, and use by public officials of their positions of power to become wealthy.

whereas today a narrower definition is taken – that is a quid pro quo transaction where government action is taken in exchange for a bribe or other recompense.

Yet some of the recent so-called tax bill arguably involves corruption in the older sense – a number of senators receive personal benefit from the low pass-through tax rules to passive real estate investments. The parts of the tax bill that provide such personal benefits to individual congressmen and senators do not at all benefit the US community at large. Surely that is an example of corruption – the legislators have abused their positions for personal gain?

One can think of many examples like this where members of the executive and legislature have used their public positions for private gain, which does not have to be monetary.

While public servants and politicians in western countries claim that corruption has been stamped out (compared to some developing countries such as Zimbabwe), one doesn’t have to look to far to find examples of practices that are pretty close to being corrupt.

About Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus

I'm a retired general who occasionally gets called back to save the republic before returning to my plough.
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38 Responses to Corruption in the US Congress

  1. Mark A

    You have no valid argument.
    Following through with your ‘reasoning’ there are only two ways to solve the dilemma.

    A; no bill shall pass where any rep. or his/her family, friends can eventually benefit from.
    B; all known family members, acquaintances of said reps’ are excluded from benefiting from these laws.

    both are as absurd as your post.

  2. Defender of the faith

    Zephyr Teachout is a woman

  3. Phill

    I think any personal benefit to congress folks from the recent tax legislation is fine, so long as the same benefits go to the people in general. Nearly all of them will benefit in some way.

    I further think that LCQ is trying to spin this as an oblique barb at Trump, which is simply a disingenuous dog whistle to the hysterical mindless left. Before you talk about this, how about a an analysis of how Pelosi, Fienstein, Reid and others became rich far beyond any possible accumulation of their congressional salary. Was it insider trading, payoffs for legislation, simple bribery, or what? What about the corruption of Hillary? Arseholes.
    And…Happy new year.

  4. Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus

    No, Phil, this has nothing to do with Trump. It is about the Congress and more broadly than the US. You are right to as about Pelosi, Fienstein and Reid too. Mark A – no it is about a law that benefits a small number of people in congress (and their donors). The bill doesn’t benefit the general public. That’s why there is a question of corruption. Trump’s goal of reducing tax broadly should be applauded, I just hate tax breaks for a select group. And I also want tax cuts to be matched by spending cuts otherwise the deficit will blow out. I don’t think the US Congress is capable of spending restraint unfortunately.

  5. Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus

    PS: I like some of the things Trump is doing. Messing with the minds of the left is one. Support for Israel is another. And skepticism of AGW is yet another. Perhaps I’m warming to the Donald?

  6. Perfidious Albino

    Seriously?, so Governments should abstain from introducing any legislation, no matter how broad based, where members and/or their families may also be a beneficiaries? So much for Government of/by/for the People I guess…

  7. stackja

    Patronage is a USA tradition.

  8. stackja

    Constitution allows lobbying.

  9. Infidel Tiger

    PS: I like some of the things Trump is doing. Messing with the minds of the left is one. Support for Israel is another. And skepticism of AGW is yet another. Perhaps I’m warming to the Donald?

    Did you like the tax cuts?

  10. John Brumble

    So no woman individually should vote for something that would benefit women generally?

  11. entropy

    Perhaps this article could benefit from specifically detailing the section of the Act that provides benefits to Congress critters only, as it isn’t clear. It reads like it is the whole thing.

  12. Mother Lode

    As I see it the only way forward is to forbid Congress and the Senate from any legislation that affects the American people.

  13. vr

    Sorry to be pedantic, Zephyr Teachout is a female.

  14. Snoopy

    Only members of Congress have passive real estate investments? Really?

  15. struth

    And I also want tax cuts to be matched by spending cuts otherwise the deficit will blow out.

    You really are a lefty with a lot to learn.
    A bigger economy creates more revenue than a small one, and you get a bigger economy by taxing and regulating the private sector less.
    I do applaud you coming around to Trump, and I applaud you admitting it.
    But by god, it took a while.
    Don’t judge politicians on superficial qualities as is the want of aloof pompous gits.
    Happy New Year.

  16. bobby b

    “The parts of the tax bill that provide such personal benefits to individual congressmen and senators do not at all benefit the US community at large.”

    Legislation designed to lower air pollution generally only helps urban constituents.

    Regulations on business generally only help customers of regulated businesses and hurt proprietors, and are useless to people who are neither.

    Legislation raising (USA) Social Security payments only help those eligible to receive those payments.

    Our Congresspeople pass legislation every day that might benefit one group of citizens while either not affecting, or actively hurting, other groups. Sometimes the Congresspeople are members of the benefited group, sometimes not. This is understood and accepted.

    If my Congressperson votes for legislation that benefits him (or his) in particular in some way that is obviously targeted to do so, we’ll examine it on a case-by-case basis and deal with it.

    But your stated rule is over-inclusive.

  17. OneWorldGovernment

    I want a politician that will benefit him or her self by reducing taxation.

    What I don’t want is a politician to benefit by increasing expenditure of tax payers money other than for a common good.

    We in Australia could benefit right now if they wiped out excise duties, luxury taxes, Wine Equalisation Taxes and Fringe Benefits Tax.

    It would immediately remove a swag of onerous imposts on business as well.

    Once we got rid of them we could start to look at what to eliminate from the expenditure side.

  18. OneWorldGovernment

    LCQ

    How much corruption exists in Australian Parliaments and Local Governments, let alone our so called “Public Services”?

  19. nemkat

    Sorry to be pedantic, Zephyr Teachout is a female.

    Haha, quite presentable, too.
    Needless to say, both her parents are College Perfessers.

  20. Shy Ted

    And closer to home, all the legislation passed by and benefits gained for our dual citizenship federal MPs when they were never entitled pass or gain. Let’s just ignore it and pretend it didn’t happen, Malcolm. Call yourself a PM? You had the chance to shine and failed. You’re corrupt.

  21. JohnA

    nemkat #2597978, posted on December 31, 2017 at 8:55 pm

    Sorry to be pedantic, Zephyr Teachout is a female.

    Haha, quite presentable, too.
    Needless to say, both her parents are College Perfessers.

    And one headline which came up in my search said “a Bernie Sanders favo(u)rite” which puts her perspective into the category: ‘jaundiced’.

  22. jupes

    How much corruption exists in Australian Parliaments and Local Governments, let alone our so called “Public Services”?

    Prime example:

    Julia Gillard as PM donates hundreds of millions of taxpayer’s dollars to an arm of the Clinton Foundation.

    After exiting politics, TLS is employed by the same organisation and receives hundreds of thousands of those dollars.

    How is that not corruption?

  23. stackja

    jupes
    #2598056, posted on December 31, 2017 at 10:55 pm

    ALP rules.

  24. manalive

    A government commissions a distinguished professor to prepare a report to form the basis of policy which increases costs for every consumer and business in the country and then starts up a business intended to benefit from that policy and no-one bats an eyelid.

  25. Sydney Boy

    Prime example:

    Julia Gillard as PM donates millions of taxpayer’s dollars to “The Coversation” – the publishing arm of the Grattan Institue – which then publishes daily left-leaning and anti-conservative pieces.

  26. Dr Sir Major General

    Haha, quite presentable, too

    If you like women who look like toothy surfing dudes.

  27. Wow, you took a shot at the elephant in the room….and missed.

    The overwhelming reference to the definition of corruption is dependency. That, by the same definition above, includes all political favours. It doesn’t even limit such favours to being legislative in nature.

    However the reference to personal benefit is questionable whether it includes legislation that lifts all boats. Exemptions, however, most certainly so.

    Take another shot, and this time, aim for the body.

  28. Craig

    LCQ,

    Warming to the Donald, LOL, yes, getting there, another 12 mths for you I reckon

  29. Dr Fred Lenin

    The clinton foundationand Obama’s $30 millionbookdeal are not corruption ,just normal political practice , just like Therese rein and giliards union cash movements.

  30. Rob MW

    Crony Capitalism and rent-seeking NGOs fall neatly into this corruption category based on the premise that legislation needs to be in place to firstly accept political pay-to-play re-election donations and more importantly, to extract the funding from federal finances to pay the pricks. All this is achieved under the US Constitution wherein there are expressed limitations on Government.

    Imagine now, for a second, where the Constitutions places no such limitations on Government under parliamentary supremacy, or any limitations for that matter, except maybe, at a stretch, the Commonwealth’s use of State derogation in paying compensation thereby by passing that evil limitation of 51(xxxi) of the Constitution. Welcome to Australia.

  31. LCQ states at the very outset that this paper provokes thoughts, then proceeds to misunderstand the intent and content of the paper.

    The paper is NOT about corruption as it relates to criminal law, but about corruption as it relates to constitutional law, and even quotes from Justices Scalia and Kennedy who say that there are ample criminal laws to deal with corruption and quid pro quo.
    The paper also states that many justices avoid the term corruption in a constitutional sense and that some (those who lean left she says) use terms such as ‘fairness’ and ‘inequality’ instead.
    Papers such as the Cornell Law Review and Harvard Law Review (yeah the one The Kenyan used to be an editor of) deal with constitutional law.

    This paper is from 2009 and is about how constitutional law has had trouble dealing with corruption questions since the founders (including as it relates to right to life issues and free speech) and how it might deal better with them in the future.
    It has nothing to do with the Tax Laws passed by congress recently. That part is the thoughts in LCQs head provoked by an 8 year old Law Review paper the he hasn’t understood IMHO.

  32. Garry

    You need look no further than the grubs and parasites that infest the Australian political rort their travel entitlements and then say ‘nothing to see here, all within guidelines’

  33. W Hogg

    Lucy: Tax cuts are corrupt because Congressmen are PAYG salaries and benefit from tax cuts. Only tax increases are kosher.

    Not sure how mOron is going to top this stupidology for the 2018 Retard awards.

  34. Barry

    Come on mate – by that measure anyoitical decision is corruption – need a bit of “fair dinkum” here, otherwise it just makes this blog appear stupid !!

  35. W Hogg:

    Not sure how mOron is going to top this stupidology for the 2018 Retard awards.

    But watch the valiant efforts over the next 12 months…

  36. Hydra

    And I also want tax cuts to be matched by spending cuts otherwise the deficit will blow out.

    False.

  37. Stan

    LCQ is just a (anti-Trump) deranged troll.

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