2012-01-11 / Editorial

Holding Congress members to account

OTHER VOICES

We call our Congress members “representatives,” but as a rule, they are far wealthier and live far different lives than those they are supposed to represent.

Election to the U.S. House or Senate puts members in rare company, bestowed with respect and perks most of their constituents can barely imagine. They move in powerful circles; and since wealth travels with power, that means they are often surrounded by wealthy people, who invite them to the restau- rants, clubs and resorts frequented by the very rich.

The wealth gap between Congress members and their constituents appears to be growing. A recent New York Times analysis of public records found that nearly half of the members of the House and Senate are now millionaires. And while many Americans have lost ground in the last few years, Congress members have gotten wealthier.

A recent “ 60 Minutes” exposé, based on research by author Peter Schweizer, illustrated some opportunities for the well-connected.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi profited handsomely after she was invited in on the ground floor when private companies went public through IPOs.

Rep. Dennis Hastert was an Illinois rep of modest means when he was elected speaker. Eight years later, he retired a multimillionaire.

Some of that wealth, “60 Minutes” reports, came after he purchased land near his home that became the site of a federal highway project through an earmark Hastert sponsored.

Congress members also have access to inside information that can lead to stock market killings. Schweizer contends that Pelosi, House Speaker John Boehner and Sen. John Kerry, D- Mass., were among those who profited from the purchase and sale of health-related stocks as the federal health care reform bill was taking shape. Several members sold stock in financial firms in 2008 shortly after hearing in private briefings about the imminent collapse of major banking companies.

It’s against the law for company executives to profit from inside information, but those laws don’t apply to Congress members. They should, and several proposals outlawing such insider trading have gained momentum since the scandal broke. Congress could regain some of its battered credibility by enacting a bill quickly.

— The Enterprise (Brockton, Mass.)

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