When Americans vote for congressional representatives, they assume their interests are well-represented and take precedence over special interest groups and lobbyists. The potential for legislators’ conflict of interest and vote-selling will never disappear until corporate campaign contributions are brought under control and it reminds concerned citizens why campaign finance reforms are desperately needed to restore a semblance of democracy to government. America’s political system is polluted by the enormous amount of corporate and special interest money paid to legislators for their favorable votes, and the Citizens United decision has magnified the problem exponentially. However, the recent Keystone XL pipeline controversy exposed House speaker John Boehner’s related problem of actively promoting an agenda that benefits him financially apart from selling his votes to special interests.
Boehner has a history of selling votes on the floor of the House to financially benefit corporations, so it is not shocking that he has a conflict of interest in executing his job as a legislator and especially Speaker of the House. Revelations this past week from his financial disclosure forms that John Boehner invested $10,000 to $50,000 each in seven firms that had a stake in Canada’s oil sands should raise red flags for the House Oversight Committee; especially in light of Boehner’s push to grant a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline ahead of the State Department and EPA studies and reports and the millions big oil spent to hasten its construction. To make matters worse, after President Obama denied TransCanada’s permit to build the pipeline, Boehner’s spokesman lied about the number of jobs the President killed. One thing is certain; Boehner would profit from the Keystone pipeline. Profiting politically by selling votes and influence is a career-long habit of Speaker Boehner
In June 1995, Boehner handed out checks from the political action committee of tobacco company Brown & Williamson Corp. to fellow Republicans on the floor of the House. The payments to “about half-a-dozen” Republican legislators prior to a vote on discontinuing subsidies to the cigarette industry were rewarded when Republicans killed the bill. Boehner’s excuse for using the House chamber to pay legislators for favorable votes was that it was common and that the tobacco company told him to do it; so “I complied.” Boehner went on to demand spending cuts that explain his penchant for hypocrisy. Not much has changed. Republicans killed efforts to eliminate oil industry subsidies in the past year and not surprisingly, they are the largest recipients of oil industry campaign contributions.
It is not illegal to accept contributions from the oil industry, and indeed, Democrats receive about one-third as much oil money as Republicans, but besides taking less cash, there is a stark difference. Republicans take approximately three times as much from big oil because they vote in favor of the oil industry 100% of the time. Last May, the GOP blocked a bill to repeal subsidies for the five most profitable oil companies at the same time they floated the idea of eliminating Medicare and recommended eliminating mortgage interest deductions for working Americans. The forty-eight senators who voted with the oil industry received more than $21 million in career oil contributions. Each senator who opposed eliminating the oil subsidies received an average of 5 times as much cash as those who voted to eliminate the free taxpayer dollars flowing to the oil industry. This is an important point. Taking campaign contributions and voting for the donor’s interest 100% of the time is selling votes.
John Boehner’s investments in Canada’s tar sand oil companies and lying to the American people about the fallacious number of jobs the Keystone pipeline would create should be a criminal case of conflict of interest. Of course there is no law against Boehner’s unethical activities, but he should be investigated by the House Oversight Committee for conflict of interest and lying to the American people for personal gain, as well as pandering for future foreign oil company campaign donations. It is unlikely, though, that the Republican chairman, Darrel Issa, himself a convicted criminal will lift a finger to hold Boehner accountable.
The Republicans in Congress are the reason campaign finance reform will never move forward and the American people are the losers. Yes, Democrats also take oil industry and other special interest money, but only three Democrats voted to keep oil subsidies. Also, there is absolutely nothing wrong with John Boehner investing his taxpayer-funded salary in Canada’s tar sands oil companies, but there are ethical questions about his lying and push to build the Keystone XL pipeline that would give him a better return on his investments if it is built. The truth is, regardless of the legislator’s party affiliation, it is unfair to the American people to invest in, or sell votes to any special interest whether it is the tobacco or oil industry and then vote for personal or political profit. Unfortunately, America’s political system will stay polluted by corporate money and influence as long as Republicans fail to do the job they were elected to do; work for the interests of all the American people. Perhaps it is better to let Speaker Boehner’s words on the floor of the House make the point; “Shame on each and every one of you who substitutes your will and your desires above those of your fellow countrymen.” Well said Mr. Speaker, well said indeed; you hypocrite.